I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Minimalist D&D VIII - Stripping the Fighter (and barbarian)

The champion fighter is one of the simplest classes in 5e D&D. Maybe second simplest after the berseker barbarian

So, if I were to make a point about how unnecessarily complex 5e is, champions and berserkers wouldn't be the best candidates. However, I'm not just trying to make a point; I am writing my own version of 5e and I found out that even those classes are too complex for my tastes.

Let me show you.

Fighters don't need much... (art by Angus McBride).

This is what the fighter gets:

Hit Dice: 1d10 per fighter level
Armor: All armor, shields
Weapons: Simple weapons, martial weapons
Tools: None
Saving Throws: Strength, Constitution
Skills: Choose two skills from Acrobatics, Animal Handling, Athletics, History, Insight, Intimidation, Perception, and Survival

I'll skip this part since I've written about skills before. Suffice to say: the fighter's weapons, armor, hit dice, skills and saving throws are all easily replaced by higher ability scores - mainly Strength, Constitution and Dexterity. A few "mental" skills are the only exception, which I'll discuss later on.

Anyway, the fighter also gets this (the champion features are bold).

Table: The Fighter
LevelProficiency BonusBonus Features
1st+2Fighting StyleSecond Wind
2nd+2Action Surge (one use)
3rd+2Improved Critical
4th+2Ability Score Improvement
5th+3Extra Attack
6th+3Ability Score Improvement
7th+3Remarkable Athlete
8th+3Ability Score Improvement
9th+4Indomitable (one use)
10th+4Additional Fighting Style
11th+4Extra Attack (2)
12th+4Ability Score Improvement
13th+5Indomitable (two uses)
14th+5Ability Score Improvement
15th+5Superior Critical
16th+5Ability Score Improvement
17th+6Action Surge (two uses), Indomitable (three uses)
19th+6Ability Score Improvement
20th+6Extra Attack (3)

I'll briefly tackle them one by one.

Fighting Style -  a collection of small (often too small) bonuses for fighting with certain weapons. Wrote about them here. I like them in play, but they could easily be replaced for something simpler and more balanced (archery is too good and GWF too weak).

Second Wind - in practice, this means the fighter gets about a bit more than 1 extra HP per level. Easily replaced by higher Constitution.

Action Surge - once a day, the fighter gets two actions instead of one. I'm not even sure this is thematically appropriated for a fighter (it is often used to multi-class and cast two spells), nor do I think it is a great idea to give a high-level fighter eight attacks before anyone else can move. I'd rather fewer, more powerful attacks.

Improved Critical - A critical hit on a 19 or 20 is a good idea, if only because it allows you to add more meaning to the number you rolled (instead of just hit/miss). Nothing particularly "fighter" here (I could see it in a Rogue or Barbarian, for example), but good feature nonetheless.

Extra attack - This is ok IMO.

Remarkable Athlete - this lackluster feature is easily replaced by higher Constitution, Strength and Dexterity.

Indomitable - not a bad idea, thematically appropriated, I like it - despite maybe being easily replaced by higher ability scores.

Survivor - well, not bad for a high-level, "epic" feature.

So, about half of the fighter features could be replaced with better ability scores - especially Constitution, Strength and Dexterity. 

But we are left with the "mental skills". It makes sense that a fighter might be good with Animal Handling, Perception, and Survival. Which could be replaced by good Wisdom... and that would ALSO improve their saving throws. I like the idea of requiring some Wisdom for a fighter - it represents willpower, awareness, etc., things that even a dumb fighter should have.

History and Insight, I see no reason for the fighter to have. Intimidation shouldn't be a skill in the first place, but if you use the popular "intimidate with Strength" house rule, this is easily replaced by higher Strength.

BTW, berseker barbarians are very similar. d12 for HD, Unarmored Defense, Danger Sense, Feral Instinct... all easily replaced by higher Constitution, Strength and Dexterity

You basically get a fighter with some interesting rage features. 

He gets unarmored defense instead of heavy armor, but I don't see why a barbarian wouldn't be able to fight in Chain Mail if he found some (IIRC Conan wore armor sometimes), nor do I see why a Fighter wouldn't get some small bonus to AC even when unarmored (when compared to a wizard, for example). BTW, if the barbarian is carrying heavy armor on his back, he might have better AC than wearing it, which sounds insane. Maybe some advantage for unarmored fighting is a good idea... but that's not it.

The monk and ranger are not too dissimilar. The paladin has a few cleric features. And that's it. We could probably reduce all this classes to a single "warrior" class with a dozen to twenty features to choose from. Which is what I did in Dark Fantasy Basic and plan to do with my minimalist 5e.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Curse of Strahd Guide, VII - Fast combat

Okay folks, since we are getting a new Ravenloft book, let's make this a "Strahd week". I'll change subject soon, I promise!

I wrote lots and lots of posts about making combat quicker; this is just a small recap. My problems with D&D 5e combat may have peaked while playing this campaign. There were three main reasons: 

1 - Standard combat is too complex.
2 - There were too many creatures in each fight
3 - The Icon of Ravenloft (plus invisibility and other disadvantages).

Let's briefly tackle each one of these. 


1 - Combat is too complex already

This is not a CoS issue. It is an issue I have with 5e. So here is something I wrote about that.

I eventually tested all of that. It made combat chaotic and fun. Maybe too chaotic; I'm undecided.

But if you were to pick one thing to make combat faster, just use average damage unless you have a reason not to - especially for monsters. A natural 20 is maximum damage, and an exact hit is a glancing blow (half damage).

2 - There were too many creatures in each fight

The problem with CoS is that you're often accompanied by allies. Ireena, Ismark, eventually Ezmeralda, Van Richten, etc., and maybe someone decided by the card reading. At the same time, you're fighting groups of monsters. That's a lot of creatures to keep track of.

Again, here is something I wrote before:

There are some neat ideas in the comments, too.

Another way of making this faster is letting your players control all NPCs on their side. Seems like an obvious solution... but not all players are up for that. And, TBH, most of mine were confused (like me) when trying to keep track of all the powers, spells, magic items and features you have at, say, level 7, even before they had additional NPCs to control. 

So the solution outline in the link above is probably better. You still ask the players to roll for "their" NPCs, but they do not choose actions, spells, etc., only roll 1d20 per round.

3 - The Icon of Ravenloft (plus invisibility and other disadvantages)

The problem with the Icon of Ravenloft is that it gives disadvantage to undead attacking you. There are other effects that could have a similar effect (invisibility, for example), but the Icon was the most common issue in my game.

In one scene, the PCs faced six vampire spawn. Each had two attacks. This meant that, in theory, I'd have to roll 24 d20 each round, in groups of two, only to discard half and see how many PCs were hit.

We had at least three or fours fights with groups of vampire spawns in the campaign... and many more against other undead.

There is a simpler way: instead of disadvantage, just give these vampires one attack instead of two (on a natural 20, they claw and bite!). Now you're rolling 6 dice instead of 24.

It works reasonably well if you do the math (if they hit on a natural 11+, giving them disadvantage is nearly identical to halving their damage output. BTW, if they only have one attack, just halve damage and you're good to go)..

Here is my bit:

In conclusion...

As you can see, I've become a bit obsessed with CoS. I'll probably finish this guide with a dozen posts. I'm not sure if you're enjoying this, but there is no stopping at this point! 

However, I will take a small break to talk about other subjects. Will come back to Strahd in one or two weeks.


Monday, February 22, 2021

"Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft" for 5e D&D announced!

We are getting a new D&D 5e book.... and it's "Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft"!

Just thought I'd share the news with you, since I've been writing about Curse of Strahd a lot lately...

It's coming out may 18! From the amazon description:

Explore the horrors of Ravenloft in this campaign sourcebook for the world’s greatest roleplaying game.

Terror stalks the nightmare realms of Ravenloft. No one knows this better than monster scholar Rudolph Van Richten. To arm a new generation against the creatures of the night, Van Richten has compiled his correspondence and case files into this tome of eerie tales and chilling truths.
    Travel (perhaps even by choice) to Ravenloft's expanded Domains of Dread—each domain with its own unique flavor of horror, thrilling story hooks, and grisly cast of characters
    Craft your own D&D horror settings, add tension with optional rules, and get advice for running a game that's ghastly in all the right ways
    Create characters with lineages tied to vampires, undead, and hags, horror-themed subclasses, the Investigator background, and "Dark Gifts" that may be a double-edged sword
    Unleash nightmarish monsters from an expanded bestiary, and browse a collection of mysterious trinkets
    Explore Ravenloft in the included Dungeons & Dragons adventure—play as a stand-alone adventure or drop it into your current game for a bit of sinister fun

TBH, I think I'm obsessed with CoS (despite some perceived flaws) and I'm probably getting this unless the quality is horrible. Heck I might even run it. 

And I haven't been buying 5e stuff for a while, mostly because I don't have enough time to play everything, and 5e is still too complex for my group. 

We'll see...

Stay tuned!

Curse of Strahd Guide, VI - Expeditions in Barovia (day, night, and bloodlust)

I mentioned about organizing a Curse of Strahd campaign through expeditions more than once. Here's how I'd do that. 

(This has nothing to do with the book "Expedition to Castle Ravenloft", by the way...)

First, fix the distances. They are too small, for several reasons. The valley feels crowded, there is a settlement every couple of hours in the road (if you count encampments, ruins, etc.). The distances also allow you to move freely between villages without ever risking spending the night outside. I'd prefer something a bit scarier...

(BTW, make sure the PCs know that sleeping outside in Barovia is dangerous. Villagers are afraid to go out at night, etc.)

The method of checking for encounters is inefficient; you check every 30 minutes, UNLESS you already had 2 in the last 12 hours. So, in theory you would roll 24 times (a complete waste of time) but in practice you will always get 2 encounters every 12 hours, no matter if day or night, IF you ever spend 12 hours outside (because probabilities). What's worse, if you DO have a couple of encounters in the afternoon, you wouldn't check for encounters when sleeping outside? 

So you could just roll a couple of d12s to find the time of the next encounter... But the game makes you count hexes, convert distances to time, and then check for encounters. 

What about doing this, instead?

- Make the distance between the village of Barovia and Vallaki about 8 hours though the encampment, 10 hours if you avoid it. So, if you make a short rest, you must perform a forced march and risk exhaustion... or make camp and spend the night outside.

- To make things easy, travels between Vallaki, Krezk, Berez, Argynvostholt, Van Richten's Tower and Wizard of Wines take about 6 hours, with two exceptions: it takes hours from Vallaki to WoW, and also 8 hours from Berez to Argynvostholt. Six hours? This means we don't have to sleep outside, right? Well, yes... but consider the way back!

- It takes 2 hours to get from WoW to Yester hill, or from Krezk to Werewolves' Den (through the woods).

- The road to the Ambler Temple should be an expedition unto itself; let's make it sixteen hours. Divide this as you see fit; the last few hours should be a hard hike on the cold mountains...

Now, how we deal with encounters? Roll 1d6 every couple of hours. Add +1 if you stray off the road, +1 if you're travelling at night, +2 if both. You get an encounter if the result is 4 or more (amke that "natural 6" especailly nasty if you want to).

In some cases, especially during the day, you can avoid this encounter with a successful Survival (etc.) check, if you want to. And some monsters might avoid you... but not always (see below).


Day, night, and the moon-induced bloodlust

The second step in our journey is making travelling during the night very scary. This accomplishes a few things. 

It forces characters to look for shelter when they sleep outside. Places such as the Old Bonegrinder, the Tser Pool Encampment, and the tower near Tsolenka Pass are ideal for that. In addition, makes villages and their inhabitants (and leaders, etc.) a lot more relevant - if you make lots of enemies, you cannot find a safe place to rest...

It also makes them consider transportation more seriously - now they need some Vistani as allies, intead of considering the whole people their enemies.

Nighttime encounters are already harder than the ones you have during the day... but I'd spice things up even more. Maybe let the first round of attacks against the PCs have advantage (or double damage, crit on a 19-20, etc.) during the night, as the evil creatures of Barovia are taken by some kind of bloodlust... most will attack immediately and fight to the death. Werewolves get a couple of rounds like that in the full moon, and so on.

Playing around with the phases of the Moon is another advantage of having greater distances, since characters will take  at least a few weeks before defeating Strahd. But this is the subject for another post.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Castle of Mirrors (OSR/5e adventure mini-review)

Castle of Mirrors* is an adventure, or, well, "a dungeon, setting, and series of adventures" in 38 pages. The system is "5e Hardcore Mode" (which I haven't read), but to me it seems more compatible with the OSR mindset than 5e proper. You can use this with other systems... but it will require some conversion and the data is not always clear (some monsters, for example, have no HP or damage listed... maybe the CR is their HD, I can't be sure).

Why did I buy/read this? I like the themes, and it is short enough for a quick read. It is also dark fantasy. And it was on sale.

Here is the blurb:
The sinister influence of an ageless dragon is plagueing the Westlands with vampiric evil. Can the heroes confront these undying dooms, and solve the riddle of the magic mirrors?
If you've been reading my Curse of Strahd posts, CoM is similar: a castle with a vampire and some lesser undead, a village nearby, some exotics/barbarians who can be enemies or allies, etc. It adds caves and a dragon below the castle (which turned out very cool) and a few additional twists. Since I like CoS (despite its flaws), I liked this one too; it is, in some ways, an small example of how CoS could be written with less clutter.

The book is well written; it is dripping with inspiration. The text is terse, the stat-blocks are very small... the way I like it! Just take a look:

The most interesting thing about the module is not the setting, however; the adventure has a great procedure to explore locations. Instead of detailed maps, it has a few scenes divided into smaller zones; to move between scenes, you make an exploration roll to see if you have an encounter or discover something useful. Additionally, the order of scenes is pretty intuitive; start with the gate, then the yard, etc.

In short, like Fate or Castle Gargantua*, CoS uses abstract movement instead of mapping. I really like this method do, especially for cursed castles such as this one. It reminds of Castle of Otranto, Gormenghast and similar stories.

Overall, it is an AWESOME system, and very simple.

The layout is simple and efficient; everything is well organized, no orphan lines, lots of small paragraphs (and bullet points), one subject per page (or two at most). Writers, take some notes.

The system stuff is a bit confusing. One monster gets "Extra Action", other gets "3 Actions: Lash, Lash, Grapple", and other gets "Bite/Claw" with no mention of actions. The page above has a monster with two lines mentioning HP (probably a typo?). Not really clear, but not hard to decipher either.

The maps are cool, the art is mostly low-res public domain stuff. 

My only caveat is that I find the book hard to look at. I dislike the gray background, it looks terrible on my tablet. Black on white would be better IMO. Also, the author (Hankerin Ferinale) is an artist with some GREAT drawings, full of contrast... which makes this choice baffling. Well, you can see for yourself above; maybe it is just a preference of mine or a problem with the tablet. I dislike the grayness in Shadow of the Demon Lord (one of my favorite games) too.

OVERVIEW (explanation here):

Useful? The book is very useful, but it is not exactly ready to run, requiring some conversion and lots of fleshing out. It is extremely usable - good index (but no bookmarks unfortunately), good organization, etc. - but unless you really like improvising, you must work a bit before running it. as the book puts it:
When it comes to reading, creating, and running Castle of Mirrors, there are so many unanswered questions. There are maps to make, items to understand, villains to imagine, encounters to plan. This is by design.
Castle of Mirrors is meant to be a PROJECT for the Gamemaster, not simply a set of

It is worth mentioning that this isn't exactly balanced, either; lots of save-or-die effects, and although it mentions "5th level or higher", I don't see how they could beat this before, say, level 10. Just look at the monster with 180 HP in the first scene, pictured above: hidden, immune to everything but blades, etc.

Inspiring? Yes. The system and organization inspired me the most, but the contents - teleporting mirrors, steam caves, etc. - are cool too.

Bloated? Not at all. Always to the point. Very good.

Tiresome? No.

Clear? Yes, very clean and clear.

In short: If you're looking for a concise scenario or a collection of places and ideas for you "gothic D&D" games, this one is worth checking out.

* By purchasing stuff through affiliate links you're helping to support this blog.  

Monday, February 08, 2021

D&D 5e's strange obsession with rolling dice

Here's one aspect of D&D 5e that I find interesting (and somewhat baffling): the obsession with rolling lots of dice. You can find this all over the game.

Sometimes, it works well. For example, I really like how advantage and disadvantage work the game.

Other times, it is a bit wonky - for example, the savage attacker feat that tells you to roll two dice instead of one (and pick the best) for weapon damage. 

Sometimes, it becomes absurd - such as the Great Weapon Fighting style that allows you to re-roll 1s and 2s, which would indicate that if you carry a longsword, if would be better to pick the dueling style and fight with one hand (average damage 6.5) than take GWF and use two hands (average damage 6.3).

Barbarians get to roll more dice on a crit; half-orcs get an additional die. Halflings re-roll 1s. "Elven Accuracy" let's you re-roll one of two. The lucky feat let's you add an extra d20... which is specially useful if you already have two, add a third and get to choose which one to pick.

Fighters re-roll some missed saving throws. Clerics can "bless" for an extra 1d4 (or give -1d4 to their enemies). Bards can get you "inspiration dice" to roll. Battle-masters get "superiority dice" to spend.

A critical hit does not double or maximize your damage; it allows you to roll more damage dice instead.

You roll damage and HP, as usual, even for monsters. An ogre has 59 (7d10 + 21) HP instead of just 59 HP. 

Then, there is the usual, "roll for surprise, then roll initiative, then roll to attack, then roll damage", where one roll would suffice.

Finally, there is an optional rule in the DMG turning your proficiency bonus into proficiency dice... So you'd basically roll 1d20+1dX+Y for almost every roll.

(There are also a few instances of "roll and ignore the dice" which I find irritating, such as the Rogue's "whenever you make an ability check that lets you add your proficiency bonus, you can treat a d20 roll of 9 or lower as a 10".)

I can only assume this is partly just following tradition and partly intentional ("bounded accuracy", something I should discuss some day...). There must be some kind of research somewhere telling WotC that their customers love to roll lots of dice (and hate numeric bonuses). Or maybe this is blowback from all those +1s and +2s you used to have in 3.5e.

In practice, this doesn't bother me much as a player, but as a GM rolling that many dice it is a hassle - especially when the PCs are fighting multiple monsters with multiple attacks... and disadvantage. That's why I always use fixed dice for monsters. 

I also have a simple "fix" for monsters with disadvantage: just halve the number of attacks or the damage.

The results will sometimes be nearly identical (if a monster needs 11+ to hit, his accuracy will drop from 50% to 25%; some math here), and sometimes a bit different (if the number need is not between 8 and 12, you might prefer other methods), but combat becomes a lot faster.

Friday, February 05, 2021

Curse of Strahd Guide, V - The Web (taking Barovia)

Continued from part IV. It might be a bit redundant.... but worth reading if you're going to run CoS.

If you like the idea of taking Barovia before defeating Strahd, here is one way to do that. I discussed this on reddit before and another user added some great ideas (check the link!).

The entire land of Barovia feels evil, as the PCs arrive. The whole land is thrown into despair. The very air feels heavy. You would leave... but the feeling is even worse when you get closer to the mists.

The reason for this is that the land is cursed. 

Every notable location lays upon an important arcane intersection, like nodes on a web.

In the middle of the web, lies Castle Ravenloft. Strahd (and the dark powers) walk over the web like spiders.

The sites are Barovia, Vallaki, Krezk, the Amber Temple, Argynvostholt, Wizard of Wines Winery, Yester Hill, Berez. Let's leave the other sites for now and keep these nine for now.

As you can see from the book, all of these places are in a bad shape - but things could become even worse. For simplicity's sake, let's call them "neutral" if they are bad but do not belong to Strahd's allies, "taken" if they do, and "free" if they are, well, free from Strahd's grasp.

An empty place is neutral. Kill all the mosnters in Berez, for example, and the place becomes neutral. A place filled with hopeful enemies of Strahd is free.

To turn a place from neutral to "taken", all the PCs have to do is... nothing. They are the good guys. If they choose to do nothing, things will naturally (and gradually) become worse.

To "free" a place, you'd have to destroy Strahd's allies... but occasionally you'll need YOUR allies to stay there for a while. That's why they don't accompany you all the time - you NEED Ismark to rule Barovia or it will fall into despair.

Remember - not all barovians have souls, and certainly many are not fit to be leaders.

But it gets worse. Maybe you need LEGITIMATE leaders to rule the inhabited parts of the land. You need to convince Dmitri Krezkov to turn things around in Krezk. You need a Vallakovich to rule Vallaki (or the Wachters will) - the villagers will not resist Strahd under a foreigner, elf, innkeeper, etc. Unless... you give them enough reason to trust you. Find a missing child, deliver a dress, clean a desecrated church or reason with a crazy abbot.

Ultimately, you have to restore HOPE to the valley. How do you do that? Here are some ideas:

- Barovia - save Ireena so that Izmark can rule in peace. If you cannot do that, maaybe helpíng the priest and defeating the nearby witches will restore hope so a new leader might emerge.

- Vallaki - convince Vallakovich to stop his insanity. Defeat him if you need, but you'll also need to defeat the Wachters or the city will turn from neutral to taken. Calling Vallakovich to reason will take a lot of effort, maybe a few errands. Maybe his wife or son could do a better job.

- Krezk - help the burgomaster with his family. Do what the abbot says - calling him to reason is nearly impossible. Maybe defeat nearby werewolves (or at least the current pro-Strahd leader).

- The Amber Temple - this is a complex one, probably deserving of an entire post.

- Argynvostholt - return the dragon's skull to its former place... and do not destroy the ghosts who opposed Strahd.

- Wizard of Wines Winery - give them back to the owners and restore the three gemstones (one of them is missing from the module... put it where you want).

- Yester Hill - defeat the druids and the Gulthias tree. On a second thought, combine this one with Wizard of the Wines.

- Berez - defeat the witch.


As you can see, pure violence is only a viable answers against places completely taken by monsters. Causing carnage in any village will not restore hope - on the contrary. Cause chaos, and Strahd will only laugh... and wait. Desperate villagers will soon turn to another tyrant for protection.


The characters should be able to perceive that something has changed if they "liberate" a place. Maybe the mists open, allowing the sun in... making things even harder for the vampires. Maybe the leaves seems brighter and stronger, the people hopeful, and so on. 

Conversely, if they fail, it will be obvious the next time they arrive. People are desperate, trees are twisted, etc.


Strahd will not sit idly after a few places are taken. He does not care enough that if a couple of places are liberated - he knows they'll fall back into despair eventually. However, if the "integrity of the web" is compromised, he will take action. This is a subject for another post.

A dark twist?

It occurs to me that if you want your campaign to be really dark, some "liberations" might require a dark twist to work properly. Suffice to say some crimes cannot be forgiven, some people cannot be reasoned with, and occasionally you need justice (or even injustice) before peace. For example, maybe some good-aligned ghosts must be destroyed to "clean" a place. In Barovia, some souls are too far gone.

I don't think I will pursue this line of thinking right now, or recommend it; the module is dark enough as it is. But it is somethign to consider.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Glitterdoom (5e adventure - actual play)

Glitterdoom* is the first of the "Fifth Edition Fantasy" series from Goodman Games. It was published in 2014 - a period in which 5e were still lacking resources. Small adventures like this one are extremely useful, and even more so at the time. The adventure is made for level 3 characters.

Why did I buy/read this? I like Goodman Games' stuff, I was looking for a short 5e adventure, and ended up buying the whole series on a sale. I ran the adventure for a party of six level two characters.

Here is the blurb:
Centuries ago, the glitterdoom came to the dwarves of Steelhand Clan! This divine curse transformed the dwarves into hellish forms with an insatiable greed for gold. Now, a chance encounter breaks open long-sealed gates to unleash the glitterdoom again. Can your adventurers delve into the forgotten halls to confront the subterranean menace?
A Dwarven mine, abandoned due to a goblin invasion, now home of an ancient evil enticed by Dwarven greed... the premise does sounds a bit derivative.  The PCs are also accompanied by an NPC that can show them some hints, there are a few undead and traps... vanilla stuff.

The whole adventure - only 18 pages long -  is very traditional... but it somehow manages to stay interesting for most of it. The monsters are new and creative, and the whole thing is well-written.

The final battle has some awesome moments of horror, as hundreds of "thundering feet" are approaching.

My main source of frustration might be comparing it to my favorite DCC modules. Those are weird, gonzo, funny, creative; this module seems to be "toned down for a 5e audience". It's target audience seems to be 5e players that are not interested in expanding the existing tropes of Forgotten Realms too much (not, say, DCC players trying 5e).

This should be obvious from the covers - just compare  DCC modules and these "fifth edition" ones and you'll see what I mean.

The adventure felt a very "deadly" to me - there are not many ways of parlaying with the monsters or undead, and I didn't see any creative ways of circumventing them, so everything becomes a battle - and some foes are very tough. So it's not exactly "balanced" for 3rd level.

OVERVIEW (explanation here):

Useful? Definitely. If you want to pick a short 5e adventure, this one is simple, well made, well organized. It contains a cool new 5e background ("refugee") too. But even if you're running OSR or other "dungeon" games the module is easy to run.

Inspiring? More or less. It is a bit more interesting than the premise. The (B&W) art is good, the monsters are cool, but it is very "default D&D dungeon" for the most part.

Bloated? Not really, it is mostly well written and to the point. It contains some tired rolls (make a perception check to find a ruby, without describing where and why it is hidden, etc.).

Tiresome? Nope. A bit "traditional", but nothing made me roll my eyes.

Clear? Yes, it is well written, well organized, the map is simple. The only thing I am missing is a description of the "greed grubs". It is hard to say if they are worms or humanoids. The text mentions feet and crawling; the picture of a "giant greedy grub" with "smaller versions" show both (the giant version is humanoid, the smaller versions are worms - which I think is the right answer despite the mention of feet in the final room).

In short: If you're looking for a short 5e dungeon that relies heavily on D&D tropes, without subverting them, but does so in a creative manner, I'd recommend this one.

* By purchasing stuff through affiliate links you're helping to support this blog. 

Monday, February 01, 2021

So... reviews (and mini-reviews, actual plays, non-RPG books, etc.)

I have written a long post explaining why writing reviews "on demand" is not always a good idea for me right now (2021). I don't know if I'll ever publish it. 

It boils down to "it takes time and effort, doesn't seem to generate interest, I am only interested in a few games/systems/genres/themes, I am really bored by most stuff I read, I want to be fair, and not offend anyone".

Also... I'm a small publisher. So, if I ever review a game I don't like in a genre I like, it might sounds like sour grapes. I don't see a reason to do that - except for big WotC modules, because everyone knows this and I'm not offending another small publisher when I criticize these "blockbuster" books. And "trading" reviews with other small publishers will bring about obivious conflicts of interest. Maybe someday we bloggers can join and create some kind of decent system to do that.

I did some reviews in the past - mostly of games I liked. Take a look at them, I think they are useful.

So, I'm not accepting RPGs for reviews right now, at least until I can think of a better way to write them. Maybe I can ask the readers what reviews they want. Maybe I can turn theses review into YouTube videos... Would you be interested? I don't know. Let's see.

(If you like writing reviews, and want some review copies of my games, by all means, just let me know. I always appreciate the feedback and signal-boosting).


I do own more than 3,500 RPG files, and sometimes I skim though them to mine for interesting ideas.

So, I might write "mini reviews" with my impressions from time to time.

In addition, whenever I have the opportunity to USE something on my table, I find that my impressions become a lot more valuable, detailed and informed. It happens rarely, but when it does I'll share some "actual play reviews" with you.

AND I might write about a few RPG-related books... Appendix N stuff, fantasy, sci-fi, game design, creativity... These can be interesting too.

Notice that I already have tags such as "review", literature" and "actual play" in this blog.

All types of reviews will contain:

- Why did I buy/read this? Explaining why I was interested in the first place. Not gonna lie, the answer is often "a nice cover" or "it was on sale".

- Is it: Useful? Inspiring? Bloated? Tiresome? Lacking?

These five characteristics are mostly self-explanatory, and sufficient for our purposes. 

However a few distinctions might be worthwhile. 

Usable ideas are ready for the table. They do not require extra effort by the GM. If necessary, I'll explain how useful it is specifically if you're playing D&D 5e or OSR D&D. Good maps, a good index, good organization, clear text... these things are incredibly useful.

Inspiring ideas are good for just that - inspiration. Awesome art, cool text, funny passages, etc. It might be ambiguous or incomplete, but it inspires the GM to create interesting situations - although this will often require extra work.

Bloated books are full of filler. Useless information, stats, etc. "Official" modules are full of bloat. 

Tiresome ideas are just poorly executed. Maybe because they are boring or predictable (again, "official" modules do this a lot) or maybe because they are just puerile or silly (most often found in "indie" RPGs). I'll probably say which one.

Clear books contain all important bits - relevant information, cross references, illustrations showing how things look (instead of just inspriation). If something is lacking, I'll tell you here.

There is some redundancy here, I'm sure, but it is helpful to make things clear.

The reason I'm writing this now is that I've just read a few PDFs and I'll write a few mini-reviews soon... so I'm keeping this post for easy reference.