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Updated: 4 weeks 6 hours ago

A Blaze in the Northern Sky, adventure review

Mon, 04/19/2021 - 11:11
By D.S. Myers Self Published Old Sword Reign Levels 1-2

An introductory, mini-dungeon crawl

This 21 page adventure has a nine room dungeon that takes two pages to describe. It reminds me of the early OSR adventures, where generic text was in generic adventures. 

The clue, gentle readers, is in the marketing blurb. “An introductory mini-dungeon crawl.” That certainly gets your juices flowing, doesn’t it! I can’t wait to run this! If you can’t be bothered to even market your adventure, just a little bit, then why would we think that the inside of the adventure would be any better? I hate marketing also but I do recognize you have to play the game.

The map is symmetrical. Just one hallway with two central rooms and six rooms having off of the hallway, three on each side, mirror images. *sigh* No complexity. No tactics. Just go from door to door and stab the goblins. Stab stab stab. 

There’s a 4hd ogre, a 5hd winter wolf and a wraith in the dungeon. For a party of levels 1 & 2. I get it, you can run away in the OSR. But in a symmetrical dungeon without tactical options? What exactly are you supposed to do? 

You meet an 8th level cleric on the (very short) trip to the dungeon. I guess he doesn’t give a shit about all the dead farmers in the burnt down copse of trees you encounter? 

“The local ranger fought and killed 3 goblins before succumbing to his wounds.” and “the dead rangers wife will gift them his elven chain mail and magic +1 sword named Fortune.” 

THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WRITE A FCKING ADVENTURE! Give the fucking dude a name. Give the fucking wife a name. DDon’t call him a ranger. Call him the local hermit, or weird loner, or whatever. He’s te scruffy dude people in the village avoid who smells like piss and then kills a bunch of gobbo’s when they show up. Jesus H … add some fucking specificty. 

I fucking hate my life. I FUCKING HATE IT. 

Two pages for nine rooms. “A large pile of anima bones near the entry door” That’s what passes for part of a description. “Large”, the most generic term there is. Generic words. Generic descriptions. No specificity. “Sh’Nakt’s pet winter wolf guards his treasures here. Sh’nakt raised the beast from a young age and it is loyal to him.” This is the height of evocative text for this adventure. The goblin, who you never have a chance of learning his name, has a name and the fucking dead loner dude whose wife give you his stuff doesn’t. 

This killed me. This is what broke me. This shit is what turned me from your average normal everyday happy go lucky D&D consumer in to the fucking idiot I am today. Thisi s the stuff I encountered when I discovered the OSR. Everyone said these adventures were great. Specific recommendations fot specific products … which were all written like this. Expansive generic text.

Yeah? Well Fuck You too. Why should your lives be any better than mine? If I have to sit through this fucking shit why should you get a pass just because I’m engaged in some curation. Yeah, no fucking shit my reviews suck lately. 

Ok, look, I’m going to try and turn this around. I’m gonna have breakfast.

This is a classic example of misplaced effort. When you write an adventure you need to focus your energy. If your adventure text is two pages long and your supporting pages are nineteen then it might be the case that you should spend some more time on your adventure text. A map of the countryside (present here) is a great addition! Except it should actually offer something to the adventure, unlike in this adventure. As it stands, it adds nothing and is just another art piece. The actual text of the encounters  should be something you SLAVE over. I mean, really agonize over. Are you sick and tired and looking at the words? If not, you’ve not spent enough time polishing them. You want to include specificity, not detail. You want evocative settings tht spring to life. You want encounters full of potential energy and possibilities. You want interactivity beyond stabbing. (And beyond talking, which is also relatively easy to achieve) Why is the ogre being controlled with a collar of control? Why isn’t he in charge? Or an ally? Or anything other than “magic item controls him?” “Smells of burnt hair and flesh” is a good description. You need more like that. You need to build on that. Agitated is not an evocative word for wounded goblins. 

Agonize over your creation. Pretend that this isthe only thing for which you will ever be known for or remembered by, by even your family.

IMAGINE, don’t design. 

This is $3 at DriveThru. There is no preview.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Simple Dungeon, adventure review

Sat, 04/17/2021 - 12:13
By Micah Anderson Self Published Generic/Universal

Seven rooms filled with traps, magic, monsters, and treasure. Fight a Troll! Help a Halfling! Defeat an Undead Curse! For the Bastards. RPG system, although easily converted to any game.

This sixteen page adventure features seven rooms in a tomb as well as a page of hex encounters. It does have some decent descriptions in places but it suffers from its art house focus, simplistic interactivity, and treasure abstraction. It suffers, mostly, from not knowing what it wants to be.

Someone asked that I review this so I picked it up. Then the designer said my name three times while standing in front of a mirror and I said I was going to review it.[EDIT] Maybe it’s an ego thing? I would certainly understand that, mine being fragile enough. I may wallow in shit all day but it’s MY shit.

I say that this adventure doesn’t know what it wants to be. This gets to the core point of what an adventure is supposed to be: a tool for running a game at the table. Let us say I make a crowbar. It’s a beautiful crowbar. Perfect in every way. Except for the fact it’s made out of tinfoil. Useless as an actual crowbar but fine if you just want a coffee-table crowbar. Or, perhaps, if it brought me joy in making it? There’s certainly merit in that. But, then, I sell it as a crowbar, to be used as a crowbar. Now, lets change the material the crowbar is made out of but stillkeep it a damn sext coffee-table-worthy crowbar. Copper. Glass. Iron. Steel. Hardened railroad steel. There’s a spectrum here. At what point could we generally consider the crowbar useful to most people in most common situations?

There’s a large segment of the diy/osr/indie scene that likes to make beautiful things. That’s great. I don’t need an ugly crowbar in my life. But, it does have to actually be useful as a crowbar. Doesn’t it? Any none of this “but it’s useful to ME” stuff. It has to be useful to 80% of crowbar users. There’s really no difference between Paizo, DMSGuild and the DIY scene, they all are focusing on something other than the actual fucking adventure. 

And that’s how you get sixteen pages for a seven room dungeon. You do wide margins. You do digest format. You use large font sizes. You fill it with art. You do an abstracted map with fun font. That’s all great, none of it is bad. But, at what point does your creation become performance art? Because performance art is not an adventure to be used at the table. It has its own merits, but not labeled as “adventure.” (A trap a lot of one page dungeons fall in to, especially the contest ones.)

The map has a list of omens on it.  “Cackling” , “Chitterring”, and so on. They just exist as window dressing, adding nothing at all to the adventure. There’s little there to riff on. Why not, instead of perfunctory dropping it, add more to it to make it come alive and help the DM? Why say “place a treasure here” instead of actually listing a treasure to engage your creativity? Or “he knows d3 spells”? Why not list them? Why not engage totally with the creative process? 

Because when the creative process is engaged in then it is good. “Ten foot pit trap long ago sprung. Flimsy, rotten boards cover it. Corpse inside has dissolved into a grey jelly, will attempt to schlorp out and drag in interlopers feebly.” That’s great content! When I talk about specifics THATS what I’m talking about. Already sprung, boards over the pit, the ooze is an actual dead body. THATS good! It’s like the grells in Many Gates of the Gann. An extremely tall skeleton a mostly gilt free throne” Krom is the gift that keeps on giving. A lead coffer IN THE MUCK at the bottom of the pool releases a paralyzing MIASMA and contains a random treasure.

You can easily see the quality there. As well as bullshit like “a random treasure.” 

But there’s not enough of that. That lead coffer interactivity is lacking. Sure, there’s decent fighting. And there’s decent talking to things (thank fucking god.) But the other interactivity is rather low. It’s more watching things happen than fucking around with lead cofferrs buried in muck releasing paralyzing miasmas. And the writing FORMAT could be more solid. “Conspicuous sword upright in front of skeleton, actually lead painted gold.” This is a short example, but note that an important feature, it’s GOLD is in the second clause. Conspicuous GOLDEN sword upright in front of skeleton, actually lead.” would avoid the cognitive load that putting the descriptor in the second clause. The sword can turn one metal to another … Cool! That’s a good treasure … the kind that is lacking in this adventure.

The final room is the one that is the worst, the treasure room. Beyond the abstracted treasure, the main description is “The chapel built in to the tomb.” That’s the extent of your description. Well, a small amount of loot piled up, let’s call it 1000gp on average. “Piled with hoarded treasure” is an image that is in opposition to “1000 gp.” But, there’s no chapel description at all, which is not cool.

And the hex encounters range from good to poor. A bandit camp UNDER A FALLEN TREE. That’s good. HOSTAGE SITUATION. Thats good. Maybe could use, literally, one or two words more, about the situation. That’s a very good encounter. But dense trees and spiderwebs? Or surly wizard under a stuffed alligator? Ruined fort with valuable eggs? There’s no potential energy in those, not in the way of the bandit camp. You need an energy. That’s what interactivity brings. 

This is PWYW itch.io.  Yeah, I don’t know how much it was before. $4 maybe? Or maybe free? I can’t remember. I’m gonna try and talk with the designer and see what’s up. Also, please put in a good preview of your adventure. WIthout a preview then the only way of know what we are potentially buying is to either buy it or buy in to the marketing, which is always puffery. The preview helps us make an informed buying decision. You can support that, right?


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The House of the Hollow, adventure review

Sat, 04/17/2021 - 11:11
By Dylan Mangini DAMM Design Mork Borg

In The House of the Hollow, players will investigate a mysterious moonlit manor, home to a retired adventurer in the midst of a terrible transformation. Even before they encounter the moon-bound horrors lurking between the walls, navigating a decrepit house on the brink of collapse provides the players a significant challenge. A haunting revelation awaits travelers who enter the mansion, along with a powerful artifact ripe for the plucking.

This twenty page adventure uses about fifteen pages to describe fourteen rooms in a manor home. It’s using a format that tries to be helpful but comes off a little clumsy, with the text descriptions having a similar problem. I would call this a very simple adventure that is fine for those people who only eat California Rolls.

Yes, thank you, I know it’s Mork Borg. But they keep telling me that the sample adventure is a decent one. Besides, the cover is ripping off Spirited Away and its supposed to feature the moon as a theme and I luv Diana, she’s my fav.Also, do they not put fucking challenge levels or character levels or XP or anything Mork Borg? Are all adventures suitable for all fucking levels? Because the designer has not noted, anywhere, what level this adventure is suitable for. PUT THE FUCKING LEVEL RANGE IN. This, gentle reader, is a clue: I’m going to hold this one to one a much higher standard than other adventures. Because this one is trying to do good things. From the interactivity, to the descriptions, to the format used for usability, it’s clearly trying to do things right. It just generally fails at it. This is educational because you can’t just mimic the forms and succeed. Oh, I mean, you can. I’m going to give this one a No Regerts [I lied, I’m not.], so, you CAN mimic the forms and succeed to a certain degree. You’ll write something that is not an absolute horror, differentiating yourself from 95% of other adventures. But if you want over the hump you need to focus. The form is not the goal, the end state is. So, for an adventure that tries to do everything right I’m going to make an example of it while at the same time saying It’s Fine.

The encounters here, the rooms of the manor, generally take half a page, with some stretching to page if a lot is going on. It’s digest, with a lot of section headers, bullets, whitespace, etc. This things tend to indicate, and I wouldn’t say, it’s overwritten, as most “2 encounters per page” adventures would be. 

For most rooms we get a RoomKey and name, which is the right things to do. This is followed by a short little room description of about a sentence. Then you get these big black bolded sections that list things in the rooms, with some keywords that describe them. In theory this is a good thing, and it’s a format I tend to like. Tend to. Here’s an example:

Room 6. Laboratory (Secret): Sour, sulfuric vapors waft through the air. Laboratory Contents: Scattered (tool & bone fragments) Glowing (vials of liquid.) Specimens: Rare (Dead insects) Dissected (animals) Masses (or hair and teeth)

There’s some bolding and white space formatting in there, I’m just listing the descriptions for this example. But, let’s take that description. Is that a good description? You can see some hints of good writing and inspiration. Sulfuric fumes. Masses of hair and teeth. But the overall effect, I would suggest, is one of abstraction and Yet Another Boring Lab. Dissected animals. Glowing vials. Tool and bone fragments. This comes off more as a laundry list of things in the room rather than something to hang your hat on, for interactivity and evocativeness. Each item gets, I think, too much attention. A full sentence for fumes? That would seem like “Sulphuric fumes waft past …” … something else. Dissected animals would be better with an example, and scattered tools and bones as a secondary, like the fumes.  A lot of little things that add up nothing, the focus on the minor secondary items rather than a primary thing. And all of the descriptions are essentially like that; some ok ideas but used wrong with little MAIN focus, either in interactivity or evocative description.

And the format. In theory, a good thing, but in practice … it’s too much for the content present. I get it, separate ideas, keywords, bolding, bullets, whitespace. Normally I’d be all over it. But in practice there’s not enough content to justify it. It comes off as overly expansive, taking up too much space for the content available, and, I think, detracts from comprehension because of it.

There are some decent things in this. The wanderers are ok, there are allusions to things like a bridges of moonlight and moonlit vibrational lullabies. But that’s never explored and the moon theme isn’t really there at all, or moonlight for that matter, except for maybe two or three sentences. 

The thing lacks impact. Interactivity is staid, a highlight being a grandfather clocker with the number 13 on t that you can set to 13 to open a secret door. “Stitched Mutt: Stitched aberrant dogs with extra limbs and eyes in all the wrong places.” Yeah, sure, ok I guess. Abstracted, not specific. And abstracted content is boring content. It generalizes and does nothing for the DM.

So, it tries for interactivity but comes off in a VERY basic form, for things like the clock. The descriptions are note evocative and focus on secondary rooms things rather than primary things. The format is probably overwrought for a fourteen room dungeon this simple. It’s abstracted description and abstracted content. De rigueur. So, better than a poke in the eye but not something you’re excited to run.

You can follow the forms and get to a certain quality level, but after that you have to DESIGN. Imagination must be primary focus, with the forms just bringing comprehension to the vision.



Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Madam Maze’s Cabaret of Carrion Delights, D&D adventure review

Mon, 04/12/2021 - 11:30
By Nick Milton Nick Milton Publishing Generic/Universal/No Stats

Deep inside the bowels of an Elderwolf god lies a crumbling cabaret. Like an intergalactic traveling circus, the cabaret is constructed from ingested realities, only the truly bizarre and profane making the cut. Haunted monasteries stand side-by-side with chateaus run by monstrous flies. Preceding over the amusements is the mysterious Madam Maze, and she has a business opportunity for you. She hands you a spool of Alchemist Twine and offers you riches and safe passage back to your reality if you can frankenstein together a new act for her. Use whatever limbs from forgotten entities you can find still roaming about her kingdom. Time is running out and the seedier elements of her cabaret are awakening. Stretch Lords sharpen their fingers and Hemogoblins sniff the air for blood. Can you make it out in time or will you be consumed by the madness?

This 29 page “adventure” describes … I don’t know what the fuck it describes. An interdimensional freaky-deaky place with five sites each with a about a half dozen or less locations in them, all with a body horror theme and that light slight winking style so popular in some circles. 

You’re in a bar. The people inside starting screaming, tearing at and off their clothes, to reveal a message on their skin “Madame Maze’s Cabaret of Carrion Delights! Outside an emaciated 29 story direwolf show up, knees, opens her mouth, and a skeleton in a tophat steps out and chains her mouth open. To get in to the cabaret you have to offer him a part of your body. Well, that’s one of the hooks anyway.

A Berlin song? A Mo simpsons quote? Commentary about our artist friends? A kind of exquisite cadaver of parts, art, and words, the tone of this one makes it hard to stomach. Get it?! Get it?! It takes place in a stomach! A quote from the designer states “I’m a firm believer that body horror can be hilarious and quirky.” A common theme among artists, and this one certainly channels the artist nature of the the paroxysms of intoxication. So, we’rve got a body horror cabaret inside of a demi-god star wolf constellation. It’s run by a virus blob woman who wants you to stitch together a new act, literally, to amuse the bored dilettantes of the star wolfs pups, who sit in the front row of the cabaret. One of the acts of which is “a monstrous hairless cat with a nub tail licks itself casually as a weeping naked man begs it to clean him.” Successfully channeling the post modern nature of stage plays and the artist body horror, this may be the best supplement yet to refer to when you are looking to spice up your characters journeys through the planes of hell. Otherwise, you’ll need a group that can handle the nod-nod wink-wink nature of the cabaret and its locations … all set inside the stomach of a cosmic dire wolf. 

The writing herein can be frustrating. There can be long sections of italics ro ruin the eyes. There can be information related in paragraph form, events and plot and details that are hard to pick out. And yet parts are bolded to draw the eye. And yet that bolding doesn’t have enough weight to REALLY draw the eye. The ideas, always interesting, range from the more mundane, like “a cultist who ha stitched a wolf pelt on to his skin (another hook)” to the REALLY out there. “Lively music can be heard from the end of the wolfs throat” (which appears in the throat scene but should be in the mouth scene, in order to lure the players in) Great imagery. Great thoughtfulness. But, poor implementation. There’s a gift shop in one location. One of the creatures has an attack that will “remove any element from your body that is not ABSOLUTELY necessary for you to be technically alive. Their blade fingers work quickly.” Ok ….

So, it’s weird, the way that only our art friends can be weird. It uses bolding and offset boxes, cross-references and so forth to help bring some organization to the weirdness. And yet … it justifies only have five cabaret patrons by saying that business has been down lately. No doubt, but, just like ancient dour dwarf fortress, perhaps in the infinite multiverse we could find one in which the business has been down but there are a few more than five patrons available to be present? 

In the end, you stumble about, to location after location, trying to find things to stitch together. A chef wants something daring, something forgotten and something fresh for his sauce. Tasting the sauce heals all your childhood trauma and turns poison effects to healing effects on you. This is the tone. These are the encounters and situations that you encounter. 

It’s system neutral, with no stats. Mayhap a good choice. I would suggest, though, that while it is system neutral, I don’t think it’s game genre neutral. I suspect it works better for those more indie type games and less well with stat heavy games. Polaris comes to mind, but the tone is off. Maybe Mork Borg. Reformatting it, throwing off the chains of “ The Standard D&D Adventure” and embracing the less structured play style of those other genres would have worked to this adventure’s favor, I think. 

This does a better job of describing an alien/hellish environment than other supplement I’ve seen. All of those decadent drow cities and hell planes supplements pale in comparison. If you can handle the tone then you’ll find some truly off the wall things, with full on body horror present everywhere. Rough to follow in places and with encounters that are a lot more opened (on purpose) and subject to interpretation, it struggles with that, I think. It’s not TOO open ended, mostly, but its really close to the line of being pointless. Or, pointless in a way that Alice in Wonderland is pointless. You have a task and are trying to bend a truly bizarre world to your ends. 

“An unmotivated beam of light shines on a statue of an adorable baby Lich on the south wall. The space from statue to door is 25 ft. Approaching the statue will cause you to grow younger and the Lich Statue to grow older, its cherub-like form swelling with carved hatred. By the time you get to the foot of the now monstrous Lich you are a toddler with the equivalent mental capacities. Crawling into the Lich’s folded hands will reverse the magic and a token will plop out of the Lich’s back. The struggle is convincing a toddler to crawl into the hands.”

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is the entire thing. The art gives you a good indication of whats to come. For writing, I’d check out page five of the preview for the descriptions of the maw and throat. Some bolding, some boxes to bring order to the chaos, but still too rough to scan quickly. I would note, as well, that these are the more mundane of the encounters. It never really falls over on to the Weird for the Sake of Being Weird side of things, but it’s really really close. This isn’t the “normal” weirdness of avant guarde adventure, of the poser weirdness of some Venger stuff, but weird as only the exquisite corpse can be; with structure.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Darness Beneath Brightwell Manor, adventure review

Sat, 04/10/2021 - 11:28
Tim Bannock Self Published B/X or 1e Levels 10-14!!!

The reclusive Brightwell family has been corrupted by the whispers of a vengeful sorceress-turned-fiend. When this newfound master suddenly grows silent, the madness infecting the household is no longer focused, and cannot be contained. Mayhem spills across the countryside. Meanwhile, deep below the Brightwell estate, the family’s patriarch Eldon Brightwell inflicts horrifying experiments on both servants and family…

This 53 page adventure uses about thirteen pages to describe about sixty rooms in a manor home with a couple of basement levels. It’s minimally keyed, bland, and a 5e conversion.

It’s got clean and clear maps that are easily read, and uses a landscape format to provide easy to read three-column text. It doesn’t mess around with too much backstory, and puts most things like that in an appendix, which also has a reference for NPC’s to be found in the manor. It’s extensively hyperlinked. The first of the map pages also describes the general features of the house, like windows and doors, which is useful to have on a map so that they are “always on” for the DM to reference duringplay.

Now that the good is over with …

First, it’s a 5e conversion, it looks like. It calls for rolls with advantage, making perception checks, and so on. I get it, 5e sells more than anything else so make the adventure for that. And, of course, just like with Roll to Continue, this kind of stuff can be easily ignored by a DM and/or converted on the fly. But it shows a lack of caring. If you’re converting to another system shouldn’t you actually convert it to that system? Especially if you claim in the the introduction that “This adventure uses 1E and B/X style OSR mechanics …” Uh. No. It uses 5e mechanics. Anyway, that’s me being petty. As I said, just as with a lopsided page count of adventure to supporting material, which this has, I think it tends to be indicative of those things that don’t bode well.

You are a 14th level adventuring party in 1e/B/X. In both cases you’ve all probably got your own keeps, etc. In B/X, in particular, I think you’re walking godlings, based on my experiences with my players. So one of the hook is that the village hires you to look in to the goings-on at the manor. *sigh* By giving us each new land holdings? There’s one hook that makes sense, as you visit looking for lore/alchemical components. Again, who cares? But, again, it shows a general lack of level awareness in the conversion. Time and again adventures are produced for high levels that should be lower level adventures, and their strain to make them high level shows.

“Room 2: Foyer – Unwatched and unguarded.”

“Room 1: Porch – Three scarecrows nailed to the porch columns (actually corpses!). 

“2-1. Stairway & Hall – Signs of carnage, blood trails leading to Area 2-2”

This then is a minimally keyed adventure. Take the 1e DMG and roll for “dungeon dressing.” Ideally, this would serve as inspiration, the designer riffing off of the rolls and their imagination coming up with something to put in the room. Or, you could just put “Signs of carnage” as the description. It’s an abstracted description. No specifics. “Dried foodstuffs, but supplies are getting low.” You could do so much more with that. Replace that sentence. Add another one. Done! But you’d have something much livelier, something that danced in the DMs head. 

Traps? “One of the steps is creaky. Roll a save or the next monsters are alerted.” The alerting is good, and a creaky step is a classic, but the traps in this tend to be of the “Gotcha!” variety. There’s little to no warning. Thus they are just punishments for not min/maxing your save rather than a dose of interactivity that you can explore and play around with.

In general you need between about 200k and 400k xp to gain a new level at levels 13-14. Let’s say 200k. With a party of four that’s 800k experience to gain a level. Let’s say you’re leveling every … 6 sessions? You need 133,000 xp. Do you think that there’s 133,000 gold in this adventure? Do you think this adventure is a true 1e conversion?

Creature descriptions are boring. Magic items descriptions are boring. Treasure descriptions are boring. Everything is abstracted descriptions. “Zombies are mindless creatures.” 1d6 gemstones with 500gp each. A potion usable by all classes. At one point there are two gibbering mouthers in a room. I THINK they are supposed to be the wife of the manor lord? It doesn’t say, but might imply it if I squint. No personalization. No touches like “wearing his wife’s dress” or  “combing its hair.” Just two gibbering mouthers in a room. Why two? I don’t know, that would require effort.

The focus here is misplaced. It’s not overwritten, to be sure, and I appreciate that. It’s clear that some care was taken in trying to do a few design related things. But the room descriptions and encounters are so bland. Abstracted descriptions. Mundane interactivity. No focus on the wonder that is D&D.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is all nineteen pages of the encounters/dungeon. This is good. You can tell exactly what you are buying beforehand. Nice clean layout.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Fire in the Hole, dungeons and dragons adventure review

Wed, 04/07/2021 - 11:11
By Derek Jones Self Published Castles & Crusades Levels 4-6

Blovar Thistletine, a wealthy halfling, decided recently to remodel the wine cellar in his summer home.  Work progressed well for a few days until the crew arrived one morning to find a tunnel had mysteriously appeared in the floor of the cellar.  The crew tied a rope to one of the workers and lowered him down the shaft to explore.  A few minutes later, they could hear the poor worker’s brief scream of agony and the rope went slack.  All they recovered when they pulled up the rope was a charred end.  The workers refused to continue their work.  Mr. Thistletine is offering a handsome reward for a party of adventurers to explore the shaft and eliminate any threats to his beloved wines.

This nineteen page adventure uses six pages to describe 31 rooms in an underground bandit lair. It’s a hack-fest. It has some hints of knowing how to format things, but falls down on implementation.

I’m not going to judge this negatively for just being a hack. Some people like that. And, not even an exploratory game has to explore all the time, hacking IS a part of the game after all. This IS a little lop-sided in that direction, but then again so were the B2 kobold caves, I guess. (Although its been fifteen years since I looked at it.) So, it’s a hack. At the end there will scores and scores of slaughtered 1hd gecko-men and the water floors will run red with blood. The gecko-men looks like normal men, mostly, and can stick to the walls. That’s kind of fun. It combines both the “use a lot of humans” stuff that I generally prefer with actually having some monsters. Eel-men, etc would all do the same, I think? It’s aking to using chaos-men and mutants in Warhammer, I think. Keeping it grounded. And, there’s an order of battle for their getting indeed, which is nice to see. 

The map is hand drawn and clear enough. The adventure notes that all but two areas are flooded to 4” of standing water, and others have lights on. This should have been noted either on the map or by text on the map. These sorts of “always on” things should be front and center for the DM to refer to throughout the game. Either shade the map, etc (not feasible in this case since its hand drawn, at least not easily) or just put the text on the map. I note, without comment, the abundance of magical torches in the hallway that light the way … that only work inside THIS lair. *sigh* There goes immersion. Wait, now I’ve commented. Fuck.

Wanderers are doing something, although they are almost always gecko-men. A hint of humor is present in places, with them tormenting small cute animals or their leader pissed at the magic tapestries that show his mens devotion being transferred to his fire priests. Treasure is … ok? There’s about 5k in “normal” treasure and then also a scroll work 10k to certain buyers. That feels low for a a hack, and a little strange that its so portable.  And the 10k scroll could use more to it, given the lopsided nature. It would add a lot to a game if it were.

The adventure is using room names in combination to the room keys. So, something like “10. Larder.” Using room names is good, but they could be overloaded with a descriptor, such as “Viscera Larder” or some such. Set the DM’s framing early so they absorb the text in that context. There’s also a decent number of rooms that are empty. Such as that larder. And by empty I mean “the room has no text at all.” So you get “Larder” and nothing more. Or, for a living quarters “Empty. They are all out raiding.” Thus the descriptions of the rooms are VERY MUCH on the extreme minimalism side of the spectrum. So much so that I would suggest that there is not much here at all to work with. This is one step more than Palace of the Vampire Queen, and not a big step at that. 

This feels like the outline of an adventure. Something that gets produced that the final draft is then created from. While it states its a hack, it could do a little more to enhance SOME interactivity to break things up. And it could do more with its writing to create evocative descriptions. You’ve got a lot of choices in what you use at the table, why not choose something that does those things?

This is $1 at DriveThru. The preview is all nineteen pages. I can’t fault the dude for either the preview or the price. Like I said, the designer has some ideas of how to do things right but just isn’t there yet in implementing them.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Sleep of Reason, dungeons and dragons 5e adventure review

Mon, 04/05/2021 - 11:11
By James Hanna, Brett Sullivan, Isaac Warren Fey Light Studio 5e Levels 2-4

The towns of Bassu and Inloc are at each other’s throats. But behind their mutual loathing lies a threat greater than either knows. A fiend in the form of a nighthag invades the sleep of the town leaders night after night, haunting their dreams and transforming them into nightmares.

This 54 page adventure uses 32 pages to describe about 24 encounters, the vast majority of which are social. The designers had a vision, but it fell far far short of that in implementation, leaving you with something that is nigh unrunnable in its present form. Which is too bad, the basic idea is decent. I’m considering changing my life goals, after reading this, and adding “beating in to people how to use skill checks” as a new project.

Two houses, alike in dignity in fair Ver … oh wait, no. This thing has the elements of adventure that I like. Or, at least, it claims to have them. A hex crawl exploration of the wilderness. A strong social element as you work the factions and NPCs within two towns, rallying them to your cause! Who wouldn’t like that? A little intrigue, a little social, a nice crawl, and then stabbing the shit out of something and looting some fucking treasure! Well, that was the promise anyway. No doubt the vision of the designers. That’s what made me leave my nice safe little bubble of shitty OSR adventure and venture once more in to the land of shitty 5e adventures. In practice, its garbage, of course.

I have now said just about everything nice that I will about this adventure. Good concept. There are a couple of VERY nice art pieces, by Tithi Luadthong and rangizz, that seem out of place. Not tonally. They work for that. But it’s like Aya Kato did your Get Well Soon card for a coworker that you feel apathetic about. Conceptually, there are a few decent ideas, like the hag living in a dead and rotting GIANT snake in the swamp. The descriptions are shit, but conceptually its good. The recruitment of allies, again good in concept but shitty in execution. There’s a hint, here of there, or decent writing. At one point if you mention “The Maiden”, a swamp ghost-like apparition/myth, then the guards and their goats both shift uneasily, the goats bleat softly, and the captain says something like “Nothing good comes from that swamp.” in order to twarn the party off of The Maiden. That’s fucking great! That’s what I’m talking about when I mention specificity and detail. No the color of the fucking innkeeps trouser buttons, but things that add to the actual game experience. 

The back cover contains the marketing blurb while the drivethru description is just bunch of little JPG images, with no text. Well, the images have a few words of text. WHo’s fuckingidea was that? You’re burying your marketing blurb on the back cover where it will never be seen and essentially nothing NOTHING about it in the actual storefront? I’m not a fucking expert on this shit but that seems counterproductive? In the extreme?

It’s full, FULL of shitty skill checks. Which is weird because they claim to have a system of “social moves” for you to use which, no doubt, turns the heart of D&D, roleplaying, in to even more of a dice fest and rules mastery then it already is. This thing is LITTERED will skill checks. I guess because it’s a social adventure, or thinks it is one? And I’m pretty sure that nearly every single one of them is implemented badly. Every one. Every single one. There are about twenty rolle to continues in this adventure. Twenty. These are places where you can’t continue the adventure unless you pass a skill check. In practice, this never happens. If you fail then the DM fridges and the game moves on. So why the fuck do you have a roll to continue? You’re forcing people to make dice rolls for no reason other than making a contest against a skill check. It doesn’t make fucking sense. The outcomes are all the fucking same. It’s unreal.

Try to use your intimidation skill? Roll a 24+? (Which I’m pretty sure is good …) then the DM is told it doesn’t work and the NPC works around it. What the fuck man? Why? Becusa it will break the designers vision for the fucking adventure? Jesus H … let the fucking party enjoy their fucking success! And, those eighty gazillion skill checks you make? They are essentially meaningless. Just little window dressing bits of information for the most part, teasing out descriptions and tone. Which, again, works against the fcking adventure. You WANT the tone out there. You WANT the details out there to set the tone. Don’t hide the heart of the fucking adventure behind a fucking skill check. 

It starts with combat. Lame. “STart your adventure with a combat to get the party going” says all of the bad old advice. Pfft! You bring the body to the nearest town. The gate guards say “Hello strangers who have just admitted to killing one of our town members. Please come in and enjoy yourselves!” What the fuck! Seriously?! 

NPC descriptions are bad, long and hard to use. The hex crawl has like one sentence for each hex, most of which are just boring “asps attack” or “roll a DC19 to avoid hazard” types. No detail. Nothing interesting. 

The actual format is TRYING to be helpful, but has gone COMPLETELY overboard with boxed and offset text. The page is COVERED with it, so much so that you can’t actually tell what the fuck is supposed to be going on in the encounter. Why are we here? Whats the line of path to follow? It TRIES to tell you that, but its so seriously broken … I know I mention putting this stuff in a lot, but, there’s a fucking limit. It’s supposed to help you find and run it, not obfuscate the game. 

The hag is an actual monster instead of an old women. Lame. The snake description, the sum total of it while inside, is “Within the snake, its ribs curve around to create a grim hallway illuminated by green glowing orbs along its length. The floor shifts slightly underfoot, pressing into the unspoiled viscera below.” The viscera part is good, but, fuck man, we’re inside a giant snake, how about a little more? Oh! Oh! And the subplots?! They are LITERALLY in a place called the Town Quest Center. Seriously. The questgiver gives them quests. Well, it’s a townsperson, but thats how its referred to. If you do enough fetch quests then you unlock the plot quests. Ug.

So. Good concept. It knows what its trying to do. It has just made every single bad choice possible to get there.

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


I leave you with this screenshot of one of the scenes. I dare you to figure the fuck out what is going on here and how to run it. I dare you. Go ahead. You’re running the game. The players are sitting the fuck in front of you. Right now. They are staring at you. They glance nervously at their phones, ready to pick them the fuck up if you stray for thirty fucking seconds. Run this fucking encounter.  Where the fuck is the actual plot to this encounter? I know where, but you have to fucking hunt for it. Seriously, you get … five seconds. Set up a time. Starts it and then glance at the page for five seconds then tell me what the scene is about and how to get it going well. And, I’m being GENEROUS in giving you five seconds. I really think it should be less than two. No fucking cheating!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Tomb to Plunder, dungeons and dragons adventure review

Sat, 04/03/2021 - 11:31
By FEI Games FEI Games Inc OSR Levels 1-3

one-off 1st-3rd level OSR hack-n-slash mini-adventure. Includes the new monster “Guardian Statue”

… Your party is traveling from one place to another when you spot a rotting backpack that is still worn by a decomposing body partially hidden in some tall grass. Closer inspection reveals a hand drawn map that hints to a location that might be a small tomb or crypt. Could this be worth checking out? From the various landmarks drawn on the map this location appears to be in this area. The next village is not far away and they might have some idea on where this is located …

This eight page dungeon describes three rooms, a door, and two hallways. The shovelware industry is alive and well, with little content, no good descriptions, and padding and abstraction galore. Plus, FEI Games can’t be a man cause he doesn’t smoke the same cigarettes as me, DEVO version. 

The first sentence up there, the one that doesn’t start with a capital letter? The one that inspires the imagination with it’s “includes the new monster …” statement? That’s the publisher blurb on DriveThru that’s supposed to make you want to buy the product. Look, I dont’ marketing either. As a good midwesterner it feels wrong. But you have to do SOMETHING to let people know what they are buying and get them interested. I mean, I might not like to do it, and it might feel wrong to me, but you need to engage in it to get people to want to buy the thing, right? Even _I_ recognize that. The second paragraph up there is the first one in the adventure, all in italics as read-aloud, and serves, I think, as a much better blurb. I mean, there’s nothing to that encounter other than what it says. And, it’s a masterful work of abstraction. You are travelling “from one place to another”. Wow! Exciting! “Hints at a location …” Sign me up! “Various landmarks …” Oh boy! I can’t wait! This is textbook abstraction. It’s nothing but padding. I suspect it’s written like that to insert in to any world, but specificity is the soul of narrative. It still sucks. 

The adventure is full of such abstractions and padding. Rooms “appear” to be empty. Which we all know is never the case. And it just padding. Everything in the world “appears to be “ something. It’s the way your senses work in a world cursed by consciousness. Padding and abstracted.

“Put in your treasure” a column of text tells us. Joy. Not even the loot is done. Why would you want this? If you had to do the work yourself then why would you buy the adventure? Does it make sense that a DM is going to creature interesting treasure on the spot for a party that just reached the end? No, of course not. 

“These tattered banners are worthless but may be of interest to a historian” … with no treasure value listed. Making something worth more to one party than another is an good concept, but you need enough to put in to make it worthwhile. Likewise, another room has unknown writing. The fucking game has a spell that has a decippher language impact. What the fuck does it state, even generally? We’ll never know. 

“You feel like something bad is about to happen.” and “as the last person enters the room the door slams shuts and locks.” OMG these are bad. You don’t address the party in read-aloud. You don’t, especially, tell them what they feel. You describe an encounter in such a way that the PLAYERS says “oh, wow, I feel like something bad is about to happen …” THATS what makes a good description. And, the old it slams shut and locks trick? LAME! LAME! LAME! LAME! LAME! LAME! LAME! LAME! LAME! LAME! LAME! LAME! LAME! LAME! LAME! LAME! LAME! LAME! LAME! LAME! LAME! 

“The monsters have no treasure” the adventure tells us. Well no fucking shit, man. That’s why there is none listed. That’s not how one spends their word budget! Most of one column is spent describing one simple poison gas trap. This ain’t no way to run a railroad.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Gang Lords of Lankhmar, DCC adventure review

Wed, 03/31/2021 - 11:21
By Harley Stroh Goodman Games DCC Level 1

The City of the Black Toga: Home to hundreds of back alley courts, rotting tenements, and an endless number of gangs, whose fortunes rise and fall as surely as the tides of the Inner Sea. Each gang vies against the others, pitting beggar against bravo, slayer against thug, and gang lord against gang lord. It’s a Lankhmar story that’s been told a thousand times, and would be entirely forgettable, save for one key element: the characters. The initial stakes are small as the gangs vie for control of a small slum. But as bodies begin to appear in the Hlal and the shadow war threatens to spill over into street violence, the price of blood favors those who trade in swordwork and black magic. If they hope to survive, the PCs will need to be both deadly and cunning by turns. For when the first rule of thieves is to never kill the hen that lays brown eggs with ruby in the yolk, old hands know it won’t be long before the Thieves’ Guild moves to protect their interests. May Death himself have mercy on those who stand in their way.  

This 32 page adventure outlines a gang war in a neighborhood slum. It has most of the gameplay elements down right, if flavorful,  but doesn’t quite know how to present them in a way that makes it easy to run. Highlighter City.

A slum neighborhood. Three minor gangs. One gets uppity ands hires the pc’s to shake things up, he wants total control of the neighborhood. Things go downhill in a series of strikes, retaliations, and escalating events that cause others from outside the neighborhood to notice. It ends with, perhaps, the party in charge of one of the gangs, setting up a fine fine city adventure campaign. And I do LUV me a city adventure campaign! 

A city adventure campaign forces the party in to a more cautious play style. Uh, hopefully, anyway, since it IS the party. No more wanderers, they get to learn of, and live with, the consequences of their actions. Their own neighborhood. How the other people in the city react and so on. It places back the social control of Keeping up with the Jones’s and not being ostracized by everyone else around you. Like the fence. Or the temple. And, of course, not getting squished like a bug but those MUCH higher up on the ladder.

And that’s what this adventure is trying to do, and largely accomplishes, I think. In a tortured way. There’s a neighborhood tension tracker. The more people you kill, etc the higher the tension in the neighborhood. As it gets higher things in the neighborhood start to change, people get wary. As it gets higher the criminal element in charge of the city tells you to cool it. And then assassins show up. And the city guard starts hassling you more, singling you out. And then they stop hassling you and actually start doing their job. And finally, if left to get high enough, the Overlord notices, puts the neighborhood under martial law, and the guard goes house to house in a brutal crackdown to find the party … and the neighborhood isn’t going to appreciate that, I’m sure. Thus the social element returns to D&D. Yeah!

Other elements help feed in to the overall vibe. There’s more than a few encounters with scouts on rooftops, keeping track of the party. There are good summary overviews of the what’s going to take place. The core of the adventure is events, on a timeline, that the DM drops in, supplements by a few location descriptions, of the three gangs and a few other “notable” places in the neighborhood. There is a web of relationships, in places, and a great sense of flavour. The doorway to one of the gang hideouts has a bunch of rusty knives, cleavers, etc hanging over it by strings, or an old crone at the tavern who is brought dead vermin by the neighborhood orphans to cook … and fight to defend her. Great great ideas and situations in this in to which the party can then dip their toes to pour their own brand of gas on things. It’s a sandbox driven by a timeline. 

But, alas …

There are two things wrong here. First, the trivial. Goodman clearly has a style guide which states that read aloud is in italics. LAME! Hard to read! There’s not a lot of it, but there are multiple sentences when it shows up. Lame! Well, at least in 2018 they had it that way.

More importantly, they don’t know how to format an adventure like this, or, Harley doesn’t know how to write one like this, in order to make it easily playable. There’s just too much for the “standard text paragraph” to handle. “Here’s everything about the place in paragraph format” is too much to hold in your head. It’s hard to find things. It’s hard to grab elements to shove in to your game and enhance it. I don’t think I’d be able to keep in my head the shopkeepers general reactions to the party, the old crone, the orphans running around, in addition to the main plot elements. But THOSE things are what is going to make the adventure immersive. Those things are what is going to make this one of the best adventures the party has ever played in. But, the DM has to be able to find it, remember to include it, remember to enhance the adventure with that flavor. And that just breaks down after a certain point. You can’t hold everything in your head. That’s why “always on” map text is important. That’s why summary sheets for NPC’s are important. That’s why its important to have a format other than paragraph form for longer and/or more complicated sections. 

This is a GREAT city adventure. It oozes with flavor. It can set up things that the party will be enjoying for a LONG time and talk about forever. (Also, remember, i LUV city adventures.) But, I don’t think you can run it in a way that takes advantage of it all, without some serious highlighting and creating your own notes and summary sheets. Are you willing to put in the work? 

This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages. You get the overview/summary, the timeline of events, and the first event laid out. From that you can get a good idea of both the flavor and a hint of the difficulty in running the thing to maximum effect.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Snotsoil Mire, Dungeon and Dragons adventure review

Mon, 03/29/2021 - 11:38
By Sean F. Smith Self Published Mork Borg Level ?

Quality writing like this and a willing to spend $6 on a four page adventure comes from the support of my generous Patreon supports. Support me today. Uh … For support, or something.

The edge of the Bergen Chrypt is flooded. Into that slick swamp, the ducal twins of Schleswig fled. Bring them back. (Or at least their signet rings. We’ll pay the same.)


This four page hexcrawl is devoid of content?

The designer write something I kind of liked. I saw this pop up and was like, “Woooah, six dollars for four pages?!?!” But, as you should all know by now, I am a dreamer. I believe in a world in which a four page adventure is worth six dollars. This is part of the lies I tell myself to make it through the day. A short page count doesn’t necessarily mean a bad adventure! Money is meaningless, mostly, these things cost less than half of one cocktail in a bar, so the cost is trivial. The person who just came up to me at the gas station is telling the truth and really did just run out of gas and needs $5 to get back to Forth Wayne, home of Taylor and Winter Fantasy. I have the luxury of living these small lies; it keeps me optimistic and, in spite of what you generally read here, from being a bitter old man. You, gentle readers, get to peek inside that optimism and see it continually shat upon. I know my lies are not true, but I want to live in a world in which they are. You get to see me deal with my own hypocrisy three times a week.

Mork Borg: a decent idea currently being flooded with shit. Near the beginning of the OSR there was a trend where publishers converted their adventures for old school play. They just took whatever they had, some pathfinder or 3.x adventure they wrote fifteen years ago, and just did a stat conversion to Labyrinth Lord or OSRIC or something. They usually forgot to remove the skill checks and had things like “Make a DC32 perception check to find the giant cave entrance.” One adventure published for 23 different systems. It was a blatant low effort money grab. My true contempt is reserved for those publishers. I usually try to separate critique of the creation from critique of the creator. You may have written something bad but that doesn’t mean you are a bad writer. Those money grabs are a time where I give myself permission to break those rules. Sure, they all do it, but you have to retain a bit of plausible deniability or else the optimists get pissed.

Which brings us to todays review of Snotsoil Mire. 

The adventure has four pages. Single column, digest I think, with A LOT of whitespace in there. There is no art to take up space, or justify the cover price. It’s done in garish hot pink background that burns the eyes. A nice light baby blue is used, as well as yellow, just in case the hot pink color scheme should not give your eyeballs nightmares. Each of the six hexes has three possible encounters. The landwhale attacks, the aire if full of cold light rain (etc), or someone twists their ankle. Just about dix words for each of the three entries, most repeated on other tables. That’s it. 

RPG’s can teach us a lot. The vocabulary in the 1e DMG for example. I learned the definition of chutzpah from the 1e Paranoia game, geez, must have been in the eighties. A person who kills their parents and then begs for mercy because they are an orphan, I seem to recall. Chutzpah.

Is this thing a fucking joke? Did Sean have some kind of bet going with someone else where the point was to write the pointless thing ever and give it a high price tag? What the fuck is the point of something like this? This sort of garbage is the kind of thing people wave around as a banner. “Look, THIS is what can happen so you should ban X!” 

Mayhap the designer can fill us in on their thinking? See! See! I’m STILL optimistic that this isn’t some fucking troll product.

Congratulations Sean. You have written something iconic. You will now forever be associated with this. Bloodymage, Alfonso Warden, FATAL, Smugglers Cove. Snotsoil Mire & Sean Smith.

This is $6 at DriveThru.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Cape of Old Daemons, Dungeons & dragons adventure review

Sat, 03/27/2021 - 11:11
By Michael Raston Gorgzo Games Ordure Fantasy d6/OSR Lower Levels

The Cape of Old Daemons is on the fringes of The Red Sun Kingdom. Ancient wrecks and ruins of an age filled with magic and technology are littered across the cape. The Prodigal Caravan, a nomadic tribe of wizards has settled here, attempting to pick clean the ruins. A camp of Red Sun Agents watches over them, ensuring anything of value is returned to the King. Tension simmers between the two groups, while beneath the earth The Hookmen plot the downfall of all …

Let’s see …
A one page Mork Borg called Putrud Dungeon Rites of Pestilence? PASS.
A Frog God adventure about St Patrick’s Day? PASS.
A Joseph Mohr adventure about the city sewers? PASS.
See, I CAN learn new tricks!
A vaguely science fantasy setting that seems to be a mashup of Gamma World and Dark Sun? TAKE MY MONEY!!!!

This 21 page “hexcrawl”/setting describes 24 adventure regions and seven home base regions. It is flavorful enough, but its use of random tables detracts from play rather than enhancing it, reading to an incomplete vision. I’ve got three things to talk about here. The mythology of the setting, the use of random tables, and the nature of hex crawl encounters. 

We’ve got the Prodigal caravan a group of wizards that live in towers on top of giant wagons. A huge camp gathering. They act as a kind of home base and faction. Then there’s the Red Sun Men, agents of The Undying Autarch, The Red Sun King. Skin tight leotards covered by voluminous robes. Another faction. This, alone, should give you an idea of the ideas set forth in the booklet and how they hint at deeper mysterious, and the joy that brings to the DMs mind. The designer starts off solid here. He hints at things. Brief imagery, that encourages your mind to race to fill in the gaps. Which is exactly what good writing should do. 

The setting is a kind of Gamma World/Dark Sun thing. Oracle of War made me view Dark Sun in a new light, scavvers on the edge of civilization, but was still a little too … staid. Slightly less control was needed on the edges, a Deadwood like place with little government … but slightly more than the implied Gamma World setting of “only your TL1 village of twenty huts remains.” 

And the setting isn’t exactly post-apoc, at least not how its generally imagined. This isn’t the magical ren-faire post apoc of Dark Sun or the recognizable future post-apoc of Gamma World. There are no guns or cars. It’s more “here are three small pink pyramid crystals.” It’s more like a crashed spaceship tech in which you have absolutely no foundation in figuring out what things could do. This is great since it multiplies the mystery, and, it also begs the question What is Post Apoc? Why is this setting post-apoc? It is because its described that way. Ruins, finding weird things in them. That’s post-apoc. But, if you find some ioun stones in a fantasy dungeon is it post-apoc? With just a little tweaking what you could have here is a kick ass Points of Light game, just like in most other “borderlands” types games, but without the implied tech. Hmmm, maybe that’s it: this is a post- apoc setting without the implied futurism of Gamma World or the retro-steampunk shit of Dark Sun. It’s DIFFERENT. 

Oh random table, what hath thou wrought? Everything in this is generated by a random table. Each of the “hexes” gets three rolls of a d6, and three different d6 tables describe the hex. There are six of each type of hex and six entries on the tables. Thus you are getting some kind of unique combination, but not much else. Thus you might roll what the exterior of a Bone Ruin looks like, “sloppy slag heaps cooled molten metal dripping from exhaust pipes jutting from the ruin. Combine this with a roll on the interior table “Choked with metal middens of cogs, chains, screws, bolts and the like. These crawl with palm sized rustmites (Health 1), fat and vicious from the neverending feast of scrap. Rustmites will attack if their middens are disturbed, swarming and easily melting flesh with acid dripping mandibles.” And then a roll on the “filled with” table: “A thick iridescent dream fog – stalked by rainbow drenched silhouettes who shimmer out of existence when examined.” Ok Mr DM, run that!

But, why is this content being generated randomly? These are a couple of sentences each, for each of the three tables. This is not a minimalistic wandering table with another motivations tables in order to spark some in-game riffing quickly. These are the core locations. They are finite. Why are they random? I have to think that the content would have been better,m the locations more interesting and more interconnected, if the designer had kept this randomness out and had just rolled and created their own, and then tweaked them to build them in to more than the sum of their parts. The location map is set up for the DM to roll ahead of time and record the results on it, which is nice, but why? Why random? It feels like people don’t know how to use random tables anymore. (Also, the map icons for two of the locations, the vat fields and vt gardens, are VERY similar. I might have given them a bit more differentiation.)

This is a hex crawl. It doesn’t have hexes and there are no crawl rules, but it’s a hex crawl. There are locations that you travel from place to place and you get a brief little snippet of text that the DM must then turn in to an adventure. That example I gave earlier, do reread it. That’s whats generated for one “hex” in the bone fields. (Ok, there’s two more tables for exploring chambers inside.)  From that the DM has to run the game. I’m not saying it’s bad, but what I am comparing it to is a typical hex crawl, because that’s what is most resembles. Not from the “we go visit locations outside standpoint” but rather from a “now run a game from this hit of text” standpoint. Is that an hour of gameplay? A session? Who knows, it depends on how much the DM riffs on it. And herein we have the hex crawl dilemma. Things like Carcosa, Isle of the Unknown have THINGS. “Here is a thing.” Here is a giant parrot bird. There is no action or situation implied. “This hex contains a giant bird that looks like a parrot.” Wilderlands and John Stater hexes tend to present situations. “12 dwarves are hunting a giant bird; they started as 100.” One implies a static thing while the other implies a dynamic situation. Guess which is better? This is less Wilderlands and more Isle. It’s generating locations to explore (which to be fair IS what its supposed to be doing) but they don’t feel like situations, they feel static. Really really well described/evocative, but, more static than dynamic. Again, I think, the nature of using a table to generate it rather than designing it. 

Faction play is present, as the publishing blurb implies, and the loot and “mutations” (unfair! They don’t seem like mutations at all. This just seems like a freaky place) are great. The whole fucking thing is great. I love the world this thing takes place in. I just don’t think it follows through to its potential because of the random generation and the static environments that tends to create. I REALLY fucking like it though, but, Gamma World is number one in my heart of hearts.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. You get to see how the tables are used in the generation of serfs in the home base area. Not a great example of locations explored, but it does give you an idea of how things are going to go.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Night of Blood, Warhammer adventure review

Wed, 03/24/2021 - 11:31
By Jim Bambra, Lindsay Law Cubicle 7 WFRP 4e "Relatively new characters"

It’s a dark, stormy night, and the forest creaks as foul creatures howl through the undergrowth. As freezing rain slices from the roiling sky and attack threatens from all sides, the desperate adventurers stumble upon the warm glow of a fortified inn. But everything isn’t as it seems, and soon the unwitting heroes face deceit, betrayal, and horror as they strive to survive a terrifying Night of Blood.

This eleven page adventure details a small inn that has been taken over by cultists posing as the innkeeper & staff. It sets up some interesting situations and has some decent specificity and flavor, but could use a little less abstracted generalities and a little more traditional formatting. It comes to me as a request to review.

It looks like this adventure appeared in a 1987 edition of White Dwarf, and then was updated and released as a separate product in 2018 for the 4e version of the WFRPG. This explains the original writing credit (Bambra) and the updated one (Law.) I’m not sure how he original went. This one has some issues.

There is some great color in this adventure. That, and the setting up of situations, is one of its great strengths. It starts with the party caught out in a forest road, in a storm, at night. You can hear the braying of the beastmen in the distance. The braying gets closer, and closer. And then it stops, they having brought down the deer they were chasing. The party, of course, doesn’t know this. They are just shitting themselves by this point, this early in the adventure! They see an inn in the distance. The gates in the walls are locked. The ferryhouse, unlocked, shows signs of a struggle and blood, if investigated. Getting in through the side doors of the walls, the party hears unhappy horses from the stables through the storm, and sounds of laughter and mirth from the inn. 

What the adventure does very well is create tension and go back and forth between creating suspicion and plausible explanations. The horses could be loud because of the storm. The laughter in the inn dies when the party knocks on the door … which is to be expected. The innkeeper is portly and gruff, having well to do guests staying and not wanting the parties kind tonight. The roadwardern inside asks the party questions. A worker mops the floor. And … theres a mutie in the stable hayloft munching on the dead stable boy. The worker is actually mopping up blood. The portly innkeep is a fat mutie. The roadwardens outfit  has bloodstain at the base of his back. The floor upstairs to the common room is wet … hmmm, are those remnants of carpet where the hallway wood is now? Was a carpet just pulled up? 

Suspicion. Plausible deniability. Things that makes sense. With alternative facts …

 The adventure does this sort of brooding and tension building very very well. 

It also does a great job with its monster descriptions. Short and good. A beastman with a cattlehead (with a great little illustration) andmutie descriptions that are both short and decent enough to run with. A great description of a little situation and enough personality and mannerisms for the DM to run with it pretty well.

And it makes a lot, A LOT, of bad decisions.

To begin with, the location key. You get the standard numbered map. In a nice surprise, there’s a little key on the map to tell you which room is which. Room 11 is the stable, for example. But, then, the adventure text doesn’t use the numbers. It uses the room names. SO you have to go find “Bedroom” in the text. And it’s not in alpahbetical order. Instead it’s in some kind of plot order. The party will be outside first, as they approach the inn, so the ferry and stable are outside he inn, and the party might explore there first, so those descriptions come first. Then, in some fucked up decision that only its mother could love, we get a background/introduction section that explains what is going on in the rinn, what has happened and what will happen, kind of. Then we get the main floor inn descriptions. Them ots assumed the party goes upstairs to sleep, cause thats where the loose plot is taking us, so we then get the description of the upstairs of the inn. Then, more plot/timeline stuff and the cellar of the inn is described. It’s a completely fucke dup way to describe the place. Yeah, I get it. I get what is trying to be done. Butit’s nonsense. The monsters/staff/etc are all mixed up in there. This experimental formatting is NOT good. Room/Key format is not perfect for every adventure, but it DOES help you find things easier. Unlike this mess.

It’s also a little handwavey in areas that I think could have emphasized better. Cutting down the word count (A LOT) would have focused better what’s remaining, in the DM’s head. Emphasizing the storm and the chaos/sounds it creates would have gone a long way. As would more advice on playing up suspicion and plausible deniability. Teasing the entire thing out just a bit more. Maybe an order of batt;e/advice section for how things could go down in a couple of situations, just a few sentences each. 

In short, it’s an open ended situation. That’s GREAT. But it could have been focused on that and provided some hints to the DM about how to run that and be organized around that, with better break outs of the NPC”s, clues, and little events like the blood mopping. Instead you get this fucked up little plot thingy going on instead of a proper timeline. ANd then it ends with the cops showing up and taking the worst read possible on the situation and the party getting a decent chunk of XP for explaining to them. This partis totally handwaved, with almost no more words than I have typed here. A little more on the cops would have been much appreciated, especially given the XP reward it comes with. 

It’s a nice try, and I see the potential it has for a great night of gaming. Good concept here and one of the better “fucked up roadside inn” situations, but severely missing some things. 

This is free at DriveThru.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Incandescent Grottos, Dungeons and Dragons adventure review

Mon, 03/22/2021 - 11:33
By Gavin Norman Necrotic Gnome OSE/BX Levels 1-2

A bubbling stream cascades into a hole in the earth, leading to a series of underground watercourses and scintillating grottoes. Adventurers who delve within may discover odd mosses and fungi, a ruined temple complex, and the lair of a crystal-eating dream dragon.

This 56 page adventure features a two level dungeon with about sixty rooms. Multiple factions and lair areas combine with some weirdo dungeon stuff (in the more traditional definition of weirdo dungeon stuff) to crate an excellent example of The Dungeon As A Weird Place To Go Down In To. A more sensible Operation Unfathomable, or something similar to the The Upper Caves in Fight On. The classic OD&D dungeon.

There’s an airy forest glade, wide and clear. A dream like atmosphere, where time seems to dawdle and a cheery stream running through the glade, bubbling over rocks. There’s a hole in the ground. The stream flows in to it, all misty waterfall style. There’s a pool at the bottom. There’s a rough cut set of stone steps going from the surface down to the pool. 

That, gentle readers, is a classic dungeon entrance. You get this idyllic little scene, with hints of otherworldliness, like the waterfall mist and the dawdling time. And then, the hole, with rough steps leading down. THE MYTHIC UNDERWORLD AWAITS. You know, as a player, that shit is about to get weird. Your heart beats a little faster. This is the waiting line to the ride at a Disney park. It sets you up for the experience to come. It’s done GREAT in this.

The map is a series of zones, on two levels. Different factions live in each zone. There’s some VTT maps, for this day and age. [As an aside, while I don’t VTT, I do appreciate it. It’s a recognition that a substantial number of people DO vtt, and they need/want a map suitable for the fog of war feature.] The map is clear, easy to read, has great details on it to help fire the DMs imagination. It’s keyed easily, has an underground river (!!! Always a staple of beginning dungeon!) Monsters are noted on the map. I like it. Glynn Seal is doing great work. I don’t know how the fuck they are pulling of the writing matching the cartography so well, but its working for me.

There’s a fine summary up front, a loot summary, a summary of the factions and what they think of each other. Wanderers doing something without them falling in to the gonzo end of the pool. The rooms use a boiled keyword format, with section heading following up on it. I think it works well, as I’ve said in the past. I might quibble with the monsters not being in the initial description but rather in large sections later on, but, maybe I just need to get used to it. There are extensive cross-references, so if the key says the monsters are heading toward the BLACK TOMB then it also tells you (#44) so you know where the fuck to have them going without having to dig for it. The rooms also have notes like what you can hear down a corridor to the next room, and so on. Nice. These sorts of details are present throughout, giving the DM exactly what they need to run it. 

A quick shout out to some of the art. The trogs herein are depicted as tall thin pot-bellied Gollum-types in hot pink. Reminiscent, in a good way, of the Kuo-toa. Other art has style that is reminiscent of … Adventure Time? I don’t know. I don’t know art. I probably just insulted someone. Anyway, it all fits in well with the MYTHIC WEIRDO (but not so weirdo as Operation Unfathomable) UNDERWORLD vibe. And, for the record, I fucking love OU.

There’s a degree of detail present in the rooms which is quite interesting. They are loaded with things to poke, prod, look at, touch, and interact with. Some of it is the classic interactivity that I’m looking for in an adventure (statues to twist, buttons to push, as the platonic examples) but others is just things to look under, in, read, and so on. The rooms are fucking loaded. A crystal grotto (lets fuck with/mine crystals!). Some of which are 2’ long, grey andkeening gently (weee special crystals to fuck with!) A sandy floor (eeek, whats under it!) with glowing purple moss BLANKETING the walls (note the word choice, blanketing, to evoke the imagery in the DM), a carved archway to the east of imposing stone (carvings? Of what?!) and a heavy stone fallen door to the west (with writing underneath it!) A spy fucking hole in the wall, with a metal grate. That is also crawling with bugs, spiders and centipedes. Oh, and then also the room has kobolds doing some shit. Like, what the fuck man, it’s like a magical fucking wonderland for the party! Even shitty book treasure like +! Arrows get a little detail, like “iridescent feather fletching”. Sweet! See, not hard at all to spice things up!

The rooms might be getting a bit long, but, whatever. THIS is what I want the baseline of our hobby to be. The fucking formatting and ease of use issues are essentially taken care of. The writing is evocative enough to be good. This then allows for concentration on the interactivity, the plot and that most elusive of all things, THE DESIGN. This should be the minimum acceptable baseline for our hobby.  Yeah, it’s pretty transparently the shit I continually harp about that they solved. And?

GnWell, Gnthe Gnomes Gnhave Gntheir Gnshit Gndown Gnpat Gnby Gnnow Gnit Gnseems. GnThree Gnreleases Gnand Gnall Gnthree Gnfiring Gnon Gnall Gncylinders. GnDare Gnit Gnbe Gnsaid Gnthat Gnthe GnUG Gnis Gna Gnpublisher Gnto Gnbe Gnrelied Gnupon? 

It’s $7.50 at DriveThru. The preview is nine pages long. You get to see several rooms, so you know what kind of encounters and writing and formatting to expect. Great preview.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Halls of the Blood King, D&D adventure review

Wed, 03/17/2021 - 11:11
By Diogo Nogueira Necrotic Gnome OSE Levels 3-5

With the rising of the Blood Moon, the accursed abode of the Blood King returns to this world. The lord of all vampires comes to claim the blood that is owed to him. His halls contain treasures and secrets that would make any ambitious adventurer abandon reason and caution to seek them out. Will you risk your soul for gold and glory in the Halls of the Blood King?

This 56 page adventure details about a forty page manor home of an interdimensional vampire king. Good formatting, stuff to do, and some decent imagery lead to mountains of fun for every blood bag that dares enter! 

So, vampire king lives in this little manor home and pops around the multiverse, demanding tribute from all the vampires on the world he lands in, before moving to the next. Things are going great! Well, except for the blood spiders that have gained an intelligence and have their own mock court. But they are fun to watch. Oh, and that vampire hunter living inside, plagued by the morally questionable stuff they’ve done. But, hey, they are fun to watch and torment also! (How fucking ennui is that! “Yeah, I keep a psycho around and, yeah,. They sometimes kill people. It keeps things interesting around here …”) And, then, there’s the alien fungi in the basement. Bu, it’s fun to experiment on. Hope it doesn’t get out of hand and destroy all life on the world. And, of course, then there’s hidden rebellion within the home, the princess wanting to go her own way, with her followers. Then there’s the visitors, a motley crue of vampires, people pretending to be vampires, people studying vampires, and the list goes on. Minor players, but they all have goals and personalities and can be leveraged. Mom is upstairs. She wants to be reunited with her vampire king son. She’s a banshee now. Is he REALLY her son, like she says? What happens when you introduce the two? Or, hey, that mirror upstairs? The one that the vampire king put all of the kind parts of his soul in to? What happens, do you think, when he looks in to THAT mirror? And then there’s the little scale model of a solar system. With a sun. And little planets. That are actually planets full of living people, just very tiny. Also, fuckng with it could create a black hole that sucks everything in in a 30’ radius. Also, that black hole could swallow up the vampire kings heart, that he keeps stored nearby in a safe place. 

From that we can gather more than a couple of type of interactivity. We’ve got some traditional faction play. Then we’ve got some good NPC’s thrown in, both with their own explicit interactions with the adventure (mom, the mirror) and some opportunities to non-specifically exploit (the guests come to visit.) These three type of people could all be leveraged by the party, or use the party to their own ends, or just eat/kill the party. Then we have more traditional environmental interactivity, with the solar system, cause and effect, and some flaws, like the heart, hanging around. Wanderers are doing something. The guard barracks has one thrall who is reading a love letter from home and has ALMOST broken out of his thralldom. Shit is going DOWN in this place. All we need now is a dumpster fire full of gasoline to be wheeled about!

It’s clearly been designed for ease of use at the table. I don’t know if it’s Gavin (publisher) Diogo (writer) or Geist/Crader/Urbanek (Editing) but it feels like someone actually gave a shit when putting this together. The map is interesting, easy to read, contains notes like locked doors, and has rooms with monsters clearly marked on it with their names. The map, a handy reference sheet of vampire traits/abilities, and the wanderers table are right up front, the first three pages of the adventure, so as to act as an easy to locate reference for the DM. There’s a decent and yet short summary of whats going on in side the manor, as well as a little section on expanding things and consequences. All of this is fucking greta. A poster child for how to do things. There’s even a summary of all the treasure in the adventure, added up, where it is, and then how hard it is to loot it. There’s a little timeline with a couple of entries to keep the party moving. The room entires, proper, have bolded keywords, followed up with more keywords in a less-is-more type room description. There are bullets to describe things to follow up with. Monsters and NPC’s have short and sweet keyword descriptions. Some things have explicit notes on how they react (Desires blood!) and what to do. The sections expanded upon are not formulaic, but rather situational. IE: not every room has an explicit Lighting section. Or every monster an Appeasement section. 

Looking at a monster description we get this for the Shadow Hounds: Dark as the night (reflects no light). A face that is largely its maw and small red eyes (can swallow a head). Long and tall but very lean (as if stretched). That will also actr a good example of a room description. Imagine room features as the bolded words and follow up/enhancement information as the stuff in the parens. It’s great. It leaves dark corners in your brain that it works quickly and efficiently to fill in. This sort of format is, as I’ve mentioned a few times now, one of my favorites. I think it’s one of the easiest for a beginner to use effectively. It’s by no means the ONLY way to do things, but it is an effective and I think easy to grasp way that necessarily keeps the verbosity to a minimum.  There’s so much more. Notes on windows and balconies and using them. The art in this is pretty well matched, pulling off the interdimensional vampire stuff decently well, and add to the descriptive text, especially for the monsters.

A few notes. 

The adventure notes that “Many vampires are within.” Yeah, no fucking shit man! Level 3 my ass. This are not fake vampires but the real fucking deal. I’m not even sure Level 5’s would fare well. I like an unbalanced situation, it forces the party to approach things obliquely. I THINK things are handled well here. The wanderers are not 7HD vamps but guards, spiders, and the like. The one wandering vampire encounter is with some dinner guests looking for the dining room, something that can clearly be a social encounter. But man, that dining room! Thats the Steading feast hall on steroids!

More importantly though …

There’s something missing. A vibe? A feeling? A joie de viv? Something like IMAGINED rather than designed. But none of that is fair, for it it IS designed then designed in a way to put the imaginative forward. This is not a hack job of an adventure. It was tuned and tweaked and sweated over and that effort shows, easily. But it just feels like there’s something lacking. I don’t know what. Maybe it’s the timer, with the place disappearing in ten hours. Or the party hooks being a bit weak (It appears, go inside and X!) It’s context, and then moving the parts around to more relate to that context? This is a very, very good adventure and yet I’m struggling. The lack of whatever it is I can’t name would in NO way keep me from running this. It’s better than 99% of the adventures out there, easily. I dn’t know, someone will tell me and then I’ll know, I guess. It’s not something that one can put their finger on, or even recognize, I think, easily. Most people won’t care, and that’s fine, because this is a good adventure.

This is $7.50 at DriveThru. The preview is nine pages and shows you some interesting pages, to be sure, but none of the actual location pages. Bad Gnome! No mushrooms for you tonight!


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Assault on Mistrunner Village, D&D adventure review

Mon, 03/15/2021 - 11:37
By Ben Gibson Coldlight Press OSR/5e/Pathfinder Level 2

The thunder of the falls is nearly deafening; the mist is nearly blinding. Even so, your mules seem cheerful as they pick their way up the narrow stone path. Another turn around the canyon, and before you stretch the great Mistrun Falls. It’s a breathtaking sight. But out of the houses’ windows, there is smoke curling. And over the roar of the falls suddenly you hear screams.

This 46 page adventure features about four pages detailing around twenty or so locations in a cliffside village with a thundering waterfall in it, that has been attacked by bandits. It is, essentially, a two-page adventure with a lot of stuff like battle maps, pre-gens, paper minis and the like. It uses its single page of room descriptions as well as is possible given that limitation, fighting above its weight class.

While strolling about on your way to somewhere you come across a small village of a few houses, built up the cliffside on either side of a waterfall, it splitting the cliffside village in half. “How quaint!” you say to each other. As you get closer some dudes on the right hand side start taking pot shots at you will some bows, while a door at the base on the left side opens with some villagers urging the characters to get inside with them before they get shot. The village is vertical, so stairs, or one sort or another, lead up from the ceiling of one room to the floor of another, with two bridges across to the other side. Lurking in the various rooms are things to discover, but, this is primarily an assault mission with perhaps some stealth. As the first room tells us: “This humid little room is packed with mules, women, and children, they would flee if they could but the archers stop them. Weeping, some of the adults beg the players for help.”

And that room description is a pretty good example of what this an above average adventure, even given it’s “one map page and one page of room keys” design. Humid. Little. Packed with bodies of mules, women, and children. No doubt very loud, chaotic, and smelly, is what that description says to me, as the DM. That’s what happens when you’ve written a good description. The DMs mind leads to other things. Implications are explored. The brain fills things in. The description is more than the sum of the words presented on the page. You automatically fill things in. Less is more. Plus, it’s easier to scan and run at the table! Amazing! The NPC descriptions are the same, using that little “three keywords” trick I like so much (sometimes two keywords.) Villagers are scared, Angry. Elder Folga is despairing, confused and resigned. Elder Wystle is Gruff, ashamed, and aggressive. You get a sense on how to run them, and run them WELL, with just a couple of words. No need for an entire paragraph to have to dig the fuck through while running it at the table. It’s all you need, right there. And it’s oriented towards play. Not just some bullshit words, but words that will lead to interesting play. Again, the DM’s mind leaps to fill in things and contort it to make some play.

The rooms here are not dungeon rooms. There are not really puzzles to solve. This is an assault on the bandits and maybe some stealth thrown in. The room descriptions support this. In one room there’s some bandits, keeping watch over the cliffside. But … there’s a wounded warrior from the village, hiding in a pile of blankets. You can imagine the party, a fight breaking out, the wounded warrior grabbing a bandit leg, or stabbing one, at some moment. SO the rooms are designed to kind of support this sort of assault style play, adding some freshness to what could otherwise become monotonous combat.

Oh, and then there’s village Elder FuckWit. He’s gone in to the cave, tha the waterfall comes out of, to summon the villages protectors to kill the bandits. Stone guardian statues. These have stats as gargoyles WHICH MAKES PERFECT SENSE! So, crazy old village dude goes off to summon mythical protectors, who ALSO end up showing up at opportune (inopportune?) times to kill everyone in sight and are especially fond of knocking people off of precarious spots and down the thundering waterfall, bandit, player, and villager alike. Nice touch with this part. 

The map here is interesting, with its verticality. That does, however, create a some issues with comprehension. There are some parts of the design that are tough to figure out where things lead. Stairs up and down are generally ok, but there are little rooms on the map art that are not obvious which they are, in the 2d, or where a certain area leads on the leads art rendering on the “normal” 2d map. And that mouth of the Waterfall. Oof!

That’s pretty light criticism though.

It’s an adventure designed around a single session. A single session of an RPG probably takes just a couple of pages to describe. MOST adventures drag that out to a bajillion pages of content. Ben focuses in. You get a couple of pages (one of maps, one of keyed locations) with a coupe of support pages like background and notes. That’s about the right size for a single session in what is a pretty much straight forward assault with some sneaking about between assaults. A one night assault adventure? Yeah, it should be short. And it is. I might suggest that the product description could be oriented a little more towards “four pages of adventure and a lot of pregens, maps, etc”, while emphasizing the “ready to run!” aspect, but, yeah, this is what you need for an adventure.I might call it a very journeyman effort. Not gonna be flashy, but gonna get the job done.

This is Pay What you Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1. The preview shows you the four pages of actual adventure content, so its a good preview. Take a look at that map and those keys. Nice job with them, eh?


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Waking of Willowby Hall, Dungeons and dragons adventure review

Sat, 03/13/2021 - 12:23
By Ben Milton Questing Beast Games Knave/OSR Level 3

The manor of Willowby Hall is under siege by a giant, enraged at the theft of his magical goose. The band of thieves has taken shelter within the manor’s crumbling walls, cowering with their ill-gotten poultry as the building shakes itself apart. But something else is stirring. The giant’s rampage is slowly awakening a Death Knight from its black slumber, and once it rises it will call on the bones of the manor’s old residents to drive out the intruders. Will the party loot the manor of its ancient relics, or succumb to the blades of its skeletal guardians? Who will make off with the goose and its golden eggs? Will anyone survive the giant’s onslaught? The only way to find out…is to play.

This 32 page adventure features about thirty one rooms in a fanciful haunted two level manor home. With a rampaging cloud giant outside. It’s a classic situation dungeon. You think up some situation, then dump the party in to it and giggle as all hell breaks loose as they try to loot the fuck out of everything and not get themselves killed. Ben is not just “Not a fucking idiot” but actually knows what the fuck he is doing, and it shows.

It looks like this is a part of Zinequest 2, from Kickstarter, and ran in February of 2020 for two weeks, making about $13k. Delivery was promised in December 2020 and appears to have dropped in February of 2021. At first I was like “Man! $14k in two weeks! Sweet sweet lucre! If I could do one of these every two months then …” and then, after looking at the dates, I was like “oh man, the fucking stress! Dude must have been sick with it!” The results, though, are clearly with it.

Three adventurers break in to a cloud giants cloudy home and steal his goose, rumored to lay golden eggs, and run off, being chased by the giant. He’s grabbed the locals town bell from their church and is using it like a flail. The adventurers have run in to an old abandoned manor home, rumored to be haunted. Thus far we have: angry cloud giant in a silk dressing robe with a bell flair, nutso adventuring party, haunted manor, and Mildred the horrible magical goose. That’s a GREAT mix of shit going on and the fucking adventure hasn’t even started yet! Ben does this in just a couple of intro paragraphs and it sets the tone for whats to come.

This has a fanciful tone to it and is alluded to in that intro. The cloud giant with the goose that MIGHT lay golden eggs. He’s in a dressing gown. His name is Tom, a very respectful name for a giant and sometimes for trolls. That, alone, would bring the fanciful air of the folk tale to the adventure (which I have a well known LUV for.) Midred is the perfect name for the goose and making her a horrible wretch, who honks, bites, and runs away, is perfect for this adventure! Our adventurers that stole her are Helmut Halfsword, Lisbet Grund and Apocalypse Ann the magic user. Perfect names for this sort of adventure (And an art style that complements perfectly.) But, this is no kiddie game. While it makes allusions to folklore and has a lot of very relatable things because of that, this is not a kiddie adventure. Castle Xyntillan has  fun and fanciful air to it, a lightheartedness. If that’s one end of the spectrum and Shadowbrook Manor is the other end then this is somewhere in the middle. Not humorous, but a kind of setting up the environment for things to take a turn. I’m a big fan of D&D play with that tone. (I might note, also, that if this were for 1st levels then it would be the perfect intro dungeon for brand new players introduction to D&D. It’s accessible. Hmmm, maybe you can do it at level 3 also, it just makes them less squishy, which might be good for noobs, but not so much shit on the characters sheet as to overwhelm them?)

You get VTT maps. The inside cover has a layout of the map, along with notes around the edges for DM’s quick reference. Perfect. The room format has a brief sentence, with bolded words, with bullets and indents providing “i look closer” information. Perfect format. I could write a lot more about this. I don’t know, maybe I should. Whatever. I like the format. Basically, you get a one sentence intro, with a bolded word. It will have some bullets, indents under it. Then another paragraph with another bolded word or two, and some indents/bullets under it. Scanning the room, as a DM, is trivial. Reading the room to the players is easy, you’re just noting the first sentence above each bulleted section. Little mini-maps dot the pages, to give context for where the party is and whats inn the next room over. 

Ben has, it appears, taken the “no room keys” gauntlet. I have vented repeatedly in the past about adventures with no rooms keys. They try to describe using just text. Or, they put the room in some non-alpha format with no actual room keys. Ben also has no room keys. There are no numbers on the map and the room names, while on the mpa, are not in alpha order. But, wait, there’s more!

He DOES have rooms keys. They are page numbers. Breakfast Room P. 24. Music Room P18. With a big giant Breakfast Room on page 24 to help the DM locate it. Thus the index serves as the room key. Clever boy.

There are ghosts. They want things. The NPC party is running around. The giants bell is slowly “waking up” the haunted manor. The giant serves as a focus to keep the party on the move as he looks in windows and reaches and swings his bell flail … the related waking up also serving as a timer for the party. Thus there is motivation for the party to move their asses in and around the manor. 

Descriptions and great. A harpsichord says “Playing anything else causes thousands of harmless black spiders to swarm out over the PC’s hands. Save or scream in terror until removed.” A scream, of course, causing a wandering monster check. As does that horrible magical honking from the goose. There is A LOT to do in this adventure. Buttons to push, so to speak, and things to interact with, flee from, and leverage to your own ends. 

Great fucking adventure. Knave. Youtube channel. Phat kickstarter loot. Good adventure. Beautiful spouse. House in Malibu. But, alas, no cabal membership.

This is $7.50 at DriveThru. The preview is thirteen pages and shows you nearly all of the adventure. Great preview. Check out that preview even if you don’t buy it. You can see the format he’s used, both in the map and the keys, and get a sense of the interactivity.  


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Shifting Sands, D&D adventure review

Mon, 03/08/2021 - 12:11
By Joseph Mohr Old School Role Playing OSRIC Levels 5-7

The desert sands of the Jural Empire are a dangerous place to visit. The sands are deep and are constantly in motion. Recently a sand storm uncovered an ancient pyramid that may be a thousand years old or more. It is believed that this may be the tomb of Emperor Nkuku who was a rich and powerful ruler long ago. What dangers and treasures might be discovered?

This 38 page adventure uses about sixteen pages to describe about eighty rooms in a five level pyramid. It is exactly what you would expect if I said “minimally keyed pyramid adventure.” It’s 5:43 am and I just put some Beam in my coffee, leftover from my weekend 44 cup coffeehouse adventure, to combat the ennui I now feel. 

I don’t understand minimally keyed adventures. Obviously. It SEEMS like someone has put a lot of effort in to this. I mean, it’s almost forty pages. There are dyson maps. Someone typed the entire thing up. There is some amount of effort that goes in to something like this. Some major effort, I’m guessing. And yet, it just feels … empty? Hollow? Like, what’s the point? 

Here’s the wandering monster table:

1. 1-4 Mummies

2. Dun Pudding

3. 1-4 Mummies

4. Dust Devil

5. 1-4 Mummies

6. 1-4 Mummies led by a Priest of Raal

Are you inspired, now, as a DM to run an awesome game? Is this something better than you could have written on your own? Does your mind leap at the possibilities of a table with “1-4 Mummies” appearing repeatedly on it? Are you excitedly planning how to introduce those mummies to your party? 

“This area is empty except for a trail of very old wrappings. They nearly crumble at the touch.” The trail doesn’t go anywhere. It’s just window dressing.

“This area has three guards standing upright against the north wall. Two hold a weapons. The third does not need weapons. All are zombies but each is a monster zombie of a different type of creature”

“All along this large hallway are murals depicting the god Raal and the Emperor Nkuku. Scenes of great battles seem to dominate the work.”

“The hallway is dark. The walls, floor and ceiling are made from sand stone. The desert wind can be heard whistling in the halls.”

“Pedestal – Resting upon a pedestal here is a golden crown. The crown is adorned with sapphires, fire opals and emeralds. It is worth as much as 25000 gold pieces”

“The doors to this room are locked. This is Nkuku’s work shop. He does experimental research here and is working on creating a new type of golem. Parts of this creature standing upright in the room. Right now it only consists of a torso and a pair of leg bones. What kind of golem is being created is a mystery as it looks like none the adventurers have ever seen or heard of. On a small table here is a large tome. It is a Manual of Animation”

The fucking experimental workshop of an undead pharoah. “Parts of this creature standing upright in the room, a torso and pair of leg bones.” I guess I should be happy that I got “leg bones” instead of “legs.” 

I don’t really know how to describe something like this. Let’s say you went to the grocery. You see a 6” by 6” by 1” lump of grey color in plastic wrap. It’s labeled “meat.” It’s $3. What exactly is the point of such a thing? It’s not for date night. I mean, I hope your date has more self-respect than to date you if you prepare something like that. And it’s not for you to eat, I hope. I don’t want to come off elitist, but, there’s more to life than Krusty Brand Imitation Gruel. 

Everything is just so … bland. Why would you select something like this to fill your evening of gaming with? Are you proving how macho you are? Are you distinguishing yourself from those upstart kids with their spires of iron and crystal? Under what circumstances do you see something like this and get excited about it?

It’s a recently uncovered pyramid. It will be covered by sand again in 2d6 days. Is there a point to that? Thinking about that artificial timer, does it actually work in a case like this? I get it, its supposed to represent the shifting sands of the desert … but in an actual game? Is it going to come up?

It’s a hundred miles from nearest town, the text tells us. It’s only one mile from the nearest oasis. It takes five days to travel there. I guess that’s from the nearest town? Is that right? A hundred miles in fives days in the desert? The green smoke that the interior text tells us rises from the top of the pyramid … it’s not mentioned anywhere else in the adventure when you approach it. 

I don’t understand these things. It feels like work. It feels like drudgery. It feels like mechanically chewing some grey “meat” without regard to enjoyment. 

This is NT going to help the DM run a good game. Sure, it’s terse Mr Bathwater, but where’s the baby?

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $3. The preview is six pages, with the last page showing you the first two rooms. Rejoice in the preview of a minimally keyed adventure.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Sulphur & Snuff, D&D adventure review

Sat, 03/06/2021 - 12:16
By Rook Self Published OSR Levels 1-3

A wicked theatre, a blue-skinned vizier, an imprisoned demon, evil noblemen and lots of torture, mutilation and cannibalism (and more within!). Sulphur and Snuff – A Devilish Performance  …

This eleven page landscape adventure features about twenty rooms in a debauched theater in a city. It successfully creates the debauched theater environment, but, is more locale than adventure. A certain degree of motivation is missing.

The closest analog I have for this adventures design is the one page dungeon contest. If you took a bunch of the better one page dungeons and strung them together in to one project then you’d have something like this. One page dungeons are interesting because of how they force the designer in to new and more interesting choices and really focus the efforts. And they suck because they are artificially limited by what you can fit on one page … and they can slip, far too easily, in to pretentiousness over delivering the goods. You have things like Stonhell or The Fall of WhiteCliff which take one pages and fit them together to form something more. This adventure is like that.

You get a one page overview map and a page or so of overview information integrated in to it, along with a page or so of “what does eating a demon organ do to you?”, “things people are talking about” and random people walking around the theater tables, etc, as well as monster stats all located in the rear. Then you get little mini-maps, each with three or four locations on them, blown up, with the text for the locations on the page surround it. The map, proper, has some color on it, noting doorway types, as well as some icons in the room, Blue Medusa style, to help trigger the DM in to what is in the room and how to run it, as well as what might be in the next room and splashing over in to this one. It’s an effective layout style for this sort of thing.

The rooms, themselves are written fairly well, both in terms of evocative writing that helps the room/situation spring to mind as well as presenting situations that are going to be interesting to interact with. The situations are familiar enough that the DM can grasp them, or, perhaps, the writing is good enough that the situations SEEM familiar enough to grasp and run with them … which would be either good writing or good design or both. Outside the theater, for example, we get a throng of locals fended off by two theatre guards in half plate. Prove your worth to get by them; 25gp. Or, the first real room, the foyer. Dimly lit, deep red carpets stretching out over the floor, walls lined with dripping black wax candles, a woman with a noble accent heard arguing with a clerk in a barred window, another guard trying and failing to hide a large streak of blood on the floor. You know this. You know these situations. Either because they are familiar to you or because the writing has CAUSED them to become familiar to you, you know them. They are inside of your head. You know how to run them. You know the attitudes to take. And if you know this then you can relate it to the players. And that is the entire fucking point of the entire exercise. Decent writings, good situations, they combine to form something greater than the sum of their parts. 

Blah blah blah blah blah blah. There’s more of the same. A pusher in the alley, bored and jaded nobility. Secret torture club. A demon on stage in a magic circle that is also being tortured for the delight of the social circle milling about in the main theater.

There are some challenges here though.
First, your gonna need a place to set this that has a fuck ton of jaded nobles. This place is stuffed like Biohock is full of rich assholes. But while BioSHock could put all the assholes in the world in their libertarian utopia, you’ve only got one city/kingdom to work with here. 

Second, there is some issue with the point of the adventure, and I think the designer recognizes it. They talk about it being a heist, a kidnapping rescue, etc, and not a dungeoncrawl break down the door, kill, loot, repeat adventure. But, then, we get to the SUPPORT of those other play styles. Lets say you wander about until you find the torture room or the treasury. Ok. The entire thing is written in a kind of a non-committal style, at least with regard to how things can/should go down. We get a very neutral description of a place with few comments on what can happen when the party fucks up or how to support those heist/rescue play styles. There are no real personalities to the NPC’s, or many “named” NPC’s, for that matter. The reaction to violence is given about three words … there’s just not enough here to support play beyond “go in to room and look around a have some fun isolated in this room.” It needs more … interconnectedness. 

“A languid, alabaster noblewoman reclines in a basin of blood. It seeps onto the floor as she

rises to meet the players. She is the Baroness Melvelia. She is a detached gossip and for d4 HP worth of fresh blood she will answer one question the PC’s might have about the adventure. She apathetically and effectively knows everything and will answer truthfully.” Well, Hello there! …. in my best Jerry Lewis … “Hey Laaaaaady!” How much do you really want to get your questions answered? Man, do you invite a woman like this to your parties? I mean, she’s interesting to have around, but you’ve got to get those blood stains out of the carpet and the apathy … ug, what a let down when you’ve got the tunes pumping!

This is free at the designers blog. I’d check it out.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Spire of Quetzel, Forbidden Lands adventure anthology

Wed, 03/03/2021 - 12:11
By Chris McDowall, Patrick Stuart, Ben Milton, Karl Stjernberg Free league Publishing Forbidden Lands

Wind dies. Pale grass grows in spirals. Lichen forms blurred iridescent sigils on cracked stone. Black trees curl their trunks and crook their branches as if bowing. The Spire is driven through the skin of the world like a pin through curling paper. With every step toward the tower, it writhes and warps like a hallucination. It seems infinitely tall, like something in a dream. There is one silver door, marked with a pavonated eye in iridescent blue and green.

Forbidden Lands is some Modipheus RPG that tries to emulate OSR play, I think. I don’t know. What I do know is that they snagged a lot of Name Brand designers to write a volume of adventures for their game. That’s one way to get a decent base of adventures for your new game!

I don’t usually review anthology stuff, collections of adventures from many designers. I never feel like I give any one adventure enough attention and so I do a disservice to them all. In addition, you’ve got the issue of “How Much Did The Publisher Fuck With Their Creations” to deal with. But, I think I’ve found a new work method that might help me do better reviews of these anthology things. So, off we go!

Adventure 1 – The Spire of Quetzel – Patrick Stuart

This thing is 23 pages long and describes about ten locations in about eight pages, with the rest being monster descriptions,  events, etc. Locations can be a bit of a misnomer; while some of the keyed locations are “normal” rooms, as one expects, others are more situations. “You are in a huge maze” or “you are in a huge greenhouse.” Patrick is a very good writer and uses language quite effectively to paint dreamlike images for the DM that I find quite evocative. His situation/encounters are also highly interactive. This feels like a process done right: imagined and then put down with mechanics as an afterthought, instead of mechanics driving the system. “I need a CR5 encounter” is the bane of adventure design.

Looking at those last two senses of the introduction gives a good summary of the descriptive style “With every step toward the tower, it writhes and warps like a hallucination. It seems infinitely tall, like something in a dream. There is one silver door, marked with a pavonated eye in iridescent blue and green.” This is an adventuring site, no doubt about it! This is what you yearn for! Adventure awaits! Not just some bullshit dry location, but someplace WONDROUS. And an eye, pavonated like a peacock feather. Note the relationship to the queens name: Quetzal. And then, the first encounter, a couple of bird creatures, peacocks crossed with archaeopteryx and Birds of Paradise. Demons. I, dummy that I am, still did not get it. Not until I saw an art piece. They are Vrocks. This is a strength is a good designer and Patrick does it wonderfully. Not just a Vrock.  Not just a bird demon. No, he creates a description that causes you to totally rethink your preconceived notions of what a Vrock is. Turcotte did this with his devils and undead in his Jarls adventures on Dragonsfoot. It’s not a class of creature. It’s not a demon, or a vrock, or a bird demon. It’s not some genetic classification of monster. These are Grumis and Nachtrapp, weird creepy intelligent old men in brilliant giant peacock bird-creature form. Through specificity the soul of an encounter is gained.

Those demons also highlight the interactivity of the adventure. They guard a staircase. (Specifically, a spire of gilded bone leading up, with a keening wind echoing down and a pale light gleaming from above, with long-dead bodies strewn across the floor and hung like pennants on the walls. Tell me you can’t see that in your head are not excited to run it!) Anyway, those bird demons. They guard it, but they don’t want to. You cna talk to them. There are a lit of bulleted talking points for them, making them easy to run. They have a neato little entry describing their personalities, voices of hoarse whispers laughter of a goat coughing, non stop talking from them, the tone never changing, speaking as if discussing a minor poet in a library, no matter the intensity of the situation, never verbally upset. That’s a fucking NPC you can run!

There’s this kind of art nouveau quality to the descriptions, and they extend to the magic items, like The Feathered Blade: a dagger, it’s handle of lapis lazuli, carved in the shape of an eyes, it’s blade one metallic silver feather. If you wound a flying creature with it then it steals the ability to fly from it and grants it to you for a day. Neato! Fuck your “there’s a +1 dagger here.” 

On the negative side, there’s quite a bit of long italics sections, generally for the room overviews. I assume this was the publisher “helping.” M<aybe some house style? It sucks because it’s hard to read long sections of italics. The monsters also appear in the end of the adventure. Generally, I’d be ok with this, but, given that they are so unique, with their personalities built in, you really need them “in” the room page to be able to run the adventure well without page flipping or some such. The formatting feels … I don’t know … normal? SOme of the rooms, particularly the “situation” rooms, are complicated and the text is pushing the limits by what can be accomplished for easy running in a “normal” paragraph layout style. (I wonder if this is digest form? Maybe that’s a contributor also?) It all feels very awkward. THis is exacerbated by some mistakes in the layout with line spacing and paragraphs and mushing things together so they appear to be a part of a subheading rather than, for example, general notes on a location. It feels like the vodka soda of layouts. Basic.

The Bright Vault – Chris McDowall

This sixteen page adventure describes a 24 room dungeon with three monsters in it. It’s high concept and empty and the kind of adventure that makes me feel like I’ve wasted my life when played.

Which is, perhaps, a bit harsh, but true. There is some sharp dividing line for me in adventures. Well, at least one anyway. On one side you have these sorts of exploratory adventures. There are things to do and places to go and loot to steal. It feels like you have a purpose in being there, if only to snag some phat loot. We might also include many plot adventures in this category, seeing as you have something to do in them. And then you’ve got the other side of the line. The museum adventure. You go some place and look around. It doesn’t feel like there’s much else to do in the adventure, or, rather, there’s not much purpose in doing anything. These feel, I don’t know, pretentious? Empty? Hollow? Like, what the fuck is the point of this place? There were a couple of adventures in Raggis Grand Adventure Plan that fit in to this, as well as some Ed Greenwood adventures and a host of indie game adventures. And, this one.

So, 24 room dungeon. It has three demon spawn siblings in it. There’s a bodyless aura-thing protector spirit there interacting with you also. One room is a treasure vault, but the aura-thing will only let you take one item. That’s the adventure. Three child-like demon-spawn, mostly innocent in nature, and an aura-spirit that lies to you and them to keep them inside the place. I guess you can kill the demon spawn, but why? Why even go in? Why even interact with anything? 

A lot of rooms are empty, or might as well be. You go in a room and the aura-spirit says “this room is blah blah blah” and then uses the [mural, fire, whatever] to test the party and question them and find out more about them. Ug. At least, the first third of the rooms has specific cues for te aura to talk to the party, I guess because there are “Faces” on the doors to allow for that. But, given that the aura is meant to tempt and lie, especially to the spawn, then it seems … disconnected? 

So, central conceit: poor.

And then there’s room descriptions like “A large wicker basket fills the room, thinly lined with straw.” and “A dusty library filled with even more dusty books.” Masterpieces of evocative writing, to be sure. This is augmented by one of my favorite design choices: I couldn’t be bothered. “Roll 2d4 precious treasures and 1d6 valuable treasures to be placed here.” *sigh* Just put the fucking god damned things in man! The randomness doesn’t nothing to enhance the adventure and all you’re doing is shoving more work off on to the DM. 

The Hexenwald – Ben Milton

This eleven page “adventure” is less adventure and more “five witches in the forest you can talk to.” As such, there’s little to say about it as an adventure.

Bens writing is inconsistent, with some stellar descriptions like “The path north into the Hexenwald ends at a wide pond, buzzing with insects and covered in green scum.” Buzzing insects and green scum add a lot to the visuals of that description. In other places though we get things like “A wooden hut stands on stilts in the middle of a wide still pond.” The vodka soda of descriptions for a witches hut.

The witches themselves get about a column or so of description each, with their personalities and their relationships to the others. Frankly, this is a textbooks example of how something like a mind map could be useful for showing complex interpersonal relationships at a glance. Otherwise, you’ll be digging through the text trying to ferret out their relationships to each other. 

There is a little section at the end that relates events and/or quests that the withes can give the party, mostly against another of the five witches. This, then, could be thought of as the adventure. Here are some places. Here are some people. Here are some things that could happen. I get it, and it’s one way to do it, but I think that the adventure aspects could have been done better and have been brought to the forefront. 

There are some decent ideas, generally one per witch, in this. A hut full of lit candles everywhere, with runs inscribed glowing on them. Put one out and a smoke servant appears. Nice!

Graveyard of Thunder – Karl Stjernberg

This thirteen page adventure details a small eleven encounter cave with The Last Thunder Lizard in it, dying. IE: elephant graveyard/whatever that episode of the D&D cartoon was. Along the way you get a lizardman Last Guardian Of The Caves and an orc chief looking for the Phat Loot. Some nice elements here.

Big field. Mesahill in the middle. Lightning striking all around a a section of it, centered on the hill. I’m in, cause if that ain’t a great big pointy arrow I don’t know what is! And, that’s a strength of this adventure: bringing the wonder and some situations that are interesting without being explicit set pieces. Beyond the lightning field, I’d like to call out a couple of notable standouts.

Encounter one is outside the cave/hill, and, infant, outside the lightning field proper. Some tents just outside of it, with Mr. Orcy McOrcerson camped out, with his men. He heard about this place and wants the loot. He will tail the party, and/or “lead” and expedition the way Kuz did in to the Tomb of Horrors. The orcs hosw up a few more times in the caves, as warning corpses or abandoned scouts. However, they are really a missed opportunity. There was a chance here for an obsessed orc leader, KHAN!!!-style wanting to get in and squandering his meager resources of bodies. Instead we just get a couple of words on them and no real sense of how they could be used to better effect than they are. 

There’s also, in more than one place/manner, some good tension building. In one place you find a body with dart in its neck … a good clue for the party AND building tension for whats to come. In another there’s this cast off line (two, I think, in separate places) about hissing in the darkness to scare off adventurers. Again, the hissing is a missed opportunity and the ability to leverage that in to a full on tension building adventure is missing.

The whole things comes off as a very journeyman effort. Good usability, like moving from the general description in the read aloud to the specific in the DM text, is done well. But in other places there are large gaps, like the absolute lack of any monster descriptions. Instead we get their history and backstory, when we should be getting a decent little one or two line description by which to make the party shit themselves.


Anthologies are a mixed bag. They seem like a good thing, but seldom are, due to inconsistency in either writing, design, or tone. There’s some House Style bullshit going on, like the italics for read aloud and shoving the monster stats, etc in the rear of the adventure. A little too rigid if you ask me. And you are, since you’re reading this. Still at $10, you might get a good adventure out of it.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages and show you fuck ll, except for the last page, which is the first location key for Patricks adventure. From it you can glean the encounter/formatting style. Very poor preview.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Star Spire and The Bruja, The Beast, and The Barrow, dungeons & dragons adventure reviews

Mon, 03/01/2021 - 12:11
By Gus L Ratking Productions B/X Levels 1-2

1. The desert night is shattered by the fall of a crystal shard, a sky tomb filled with treasures from beyond the fixed stars and ready to plunder. 2. Curse and disease are endemic ailments of the adventuring life, and finding reliable treatment is never an easy task in the wastelands of the Crystal Frontier, but Marble Eye, the witch of Pickbone Mound is said to have the panacea for everything.  He’ll take all your hard earned plunder, but like all witches the canny old bale worker would rather make a deal and there’s something in the tombs beneath his cursed hut that needs attention.

These two adventures have seven pages total, five of which are the adventures proper. One is set in a crashed crystal meteor, an exploration adventure, and the other in a barrow tomb, given the task to bring a pig to a certain room in it by a wizard you seek a boon from. They are evocatively imagined, interactive, and close enough on usability to meet the needs of something that is only 2-3 pages long. IMAGINED rather than plodded, I would summarize.

I’m trying to not review short one to three page things; they just don’t seem to hit very often and make too many sacrifices. But, there are exceptions, and, by combining two from the same designer then there are some interesting things to say about what’s going on. And there’s are interesting.

Gus isn’t fucking around. There’s a cover and then a short sentence or two of background and then the room keys, spread out over the remaining pages. No real filler, except for some artwork that is stylized and interesting. (As an aside: … and, interesting color choices also. The art style and color choices certainly work together well to create something different without falling over the edge to pretentious.) 

The intros here are short but imply things. The things implied are further adventure and how to integrate it in to your campaign. Recognizing the limitations of the page count, the intro does double duty, setting up the adventure in such a way that the DM can expand on it. “Across the dizzying gulfs you watch it fall, a streak of burning pink that blots the fixed star and drowns the nebula of the night in its blaze. The impact echoes, only a few miles to the east, a cacophony that banishes sleep, and now at dawn you stand above the crater which cracks and pops as the sand cools to crazed glass around a bent spire of tomb crystal, ready for the plunder.”  Flowery language aside (this is the intro/background/inspiration section, and that’s all there is, where it is generally allowed) you can see how you, as the DM, might integrate this event in to your campaign. And so it is with the second adventure also. These very brief set ups with things implied for the DM to integrate them in to the game. No pages and pages and pages of backstory. “Hey, here’s this thing. And here, be inspired to integrate it in to your game.” That’s the way you do a fucking background!

Both adventures have around eight encounter locations in them, and both have a couple of encounters “outside” the dungeon before you get to the “inside” portions. In the Star Spire it is a group of bandits who ride up and then the burning sands and getting in to the thing. In the Barrow/Brujah, it is the wizards hut, and his yard/fence. Both serve as a kind of front yard to the adventure, and things that can hang on and provide more than a brief hit for the actual encounter. “The Innocents”, a group of big, dumb farm boys led by Bruno, a scruffy veteran brigand, “friends” of Graf  the duelist, just having arrived on lathered horses. Greedy and murderous, but cowards. Perfect! Perfect! The party has to deal with them before they go in. Maybe they are still there when they come out, weakened. And, then, note the name drop of Graf … a hook to integrate in to a follow up game. The adventure just drops this shit in over and over again, allowing the DM to build it in to more than the words on the page. That’s good design.

And note the writing. Lathered horses. Big dumb farm boys. Streaks of BURNING pink and a cacophony of sound. Sand cooling to crazed glass. This is good writing. The scenes spring to mind. You can immediately both imagine it … and, there are great black chunks in your imagining that your mind races to fill in. And it doesn’t feel fake. It doesn’t feel like someone just said “let me open the thesaurus and fill in an [adjective/adverb] before each noun.” They feel IMAGINED rather than workmanlike. And the adventure delivers on this time and again.

Let’s look at how Gus handles magic items. “A gleaming copper spear”, engraved with its name Biter. Sweet! A brief description but one that stands out in a sea of “+1 sword” magic items. You WANT to know more about it. It strikes as a magical weapon, but is cursed to inflict damage to the wilder on a fumble … and maybe kill them if thrown. Cursed backbiter! Essentially, the one from the 1DMG, but brought to life! Another one “drinks the blood of those it stabs”. It’s +1 and gives the wielder 1hp. That one line though, “drinks the blood of those it stabs”! … that gives the DM something to work with! Short, but leads to more. This Is The Way. That Vampire Doctor Spam man approves! 

The adventures, proper, are quite good. There are things to steal, pry out of walls, people to talk to and make deals with and, of course, horrible monsters with GREAT descriptions. 

There are a couple of areas that could be better. In places the map legends run in to the “hard to read” territory. Black text on a dried blood oval, while evocative, is just a few shades too far over the line for my eyes. And the text is pushing the limits of use in places. The descriptions ARE short, they have to be since the entire thing is only a few pages long They are using a paragraph style with bolded keywords. They start off well, with obvious things first and more full descriptions kind of mixed in. A mural with horses, for example, to give my synopsis of a much better written description. This allows the DM to say “there’s a mural on the walls” and then follow up with what’s on it when the players start investigating. There’s a limit to how much you can do with this style and still have it be easily usable during play. I’m not saying the descriptions are over the line, but, they are getting a bit close. Triple column, some fancy fonts for room numbers … the eyes start to wander. I suspect that the lengths here are just about as far as this style of organization can take an adventure. More and you need to switch and/or stick in some extra helping boxes, etc, to make things clearer.

GREAT fucking adventure for only a dollar. I wish more adventures were like this. If things were at least this good then I wouldn’t be reviewing adventures. Imaginate the fuck out of it, indeed!

These are $1 each at DriveThru. The preview shows you everything, so you can see what you are getting in to. Perfect.



Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs