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

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Vanilla Overdose, Random Insanity, and Fortress of the Iron Duke

I have recently ran Fortress of the Iron Duke, a free BFRPG adventure that is part of BF2 Fortress, Tomb, and Tower: The Glain Campaign (get it here).

I chose this adventure because it fits my own setting very well. In addition, has an interesting premise and site, a few moral dilemmas, and great opportunities for world-building and role-lay once the adventure is over. And I love BFRPG and its modules.

While I have not ran the other two adventures in this collection, they seem to be a bit more interesting than this one.

Overall, I can say I had fun with this adventure, and the ending last night was memorable; I'm glad I chose it (but I did require lots of tweaking to adapt to the level and needs of my group).

Fortress of the Iron Duke seems to be a homage to Palace of the Silver Princess, which I haven't played. This might explain some of my two (big) reservations with the module, that I've seem repeated on many popular modules, and which I'll call Vanilla Overdose and Random Insanity.

Now, this isn't a review exactly, but an opportunity to discuss these two aspects, so I hope I'm not being too harsh to a free module that provided me with plenty of fun.


Vanilla Overdose is the constant repetition of fantasy tropes: you have orcs, goblins, kobolds, skeletons, hobgoblins, oozes, zombies, giant rats... barely a single interesting monster to be found. I think the term is more or less self-explanatory. you can have goblins in your adventure, sure, but if ALL your NPCs/foes/challenges are predictable tropes, I simply cannot take the boredom after a while.

The other problem - that seems closely related to the first, for some reason is Random Insanity - the feeling that you are facing a place that was created by rolling multiple times on a random table (for example, as suggested in the DMG).

Take the goblins, kobolds, skeletons, and giant rats, for example. How are they living side by side? This adventure at least has an explanation for the humanoids and rats - they are attracted/affected by a magical gem. But the undead seem to come from out of nowhere*. Why not make them connected to the gem somehow? Sure, the GM can make these inferences, but it should be part of the adventure.

(* Quite literally - there are 10 skeletons in a closet for no reason. Only today I realized it was an obvious joke - "the duke has skeletons in his closet". Fine, you got me.).

Come to think of it, if the Fortress had been raided by multiple goblin clans - maybe with different weapons and even traits - it would be less tiresome than goblins + kobolds + orcs. 

Having only goblins as enemies could be boring for some people, but for me it is the contrary; each element that is added without some novelty makes me like the whole thing a bit less. 

Both The God That Crawls and Doom of the Savage Kings (and most DCC adventures I've played) are good examples of having a limited number of creature types, but valuing each creature as something unique. I tried to create something along these lines with my Wretched Hive.

The module also has living statues and an ordinary fountain that is hidden for some reason - and hidden in a strange manner:

The whole lower floor has a strange architecture that doesn't resemble an actual castle or cave. Look at this corridor; it is almost impossible that there wouldn't be a better way to build this:

Curiously enough, the upper level is completely different, and much better - we get something that resembles and actual building and even some new creatures (narcotic giant roses).

Anyway, it was a fun adventure, but for my personally it would be awesome without these two aspects. 

Classic fantasy is cool, but vanilla can become boring (or maybe I'm just tired of orcs).

Weird is cool, but random is tiresome.

In any case, I'm still interested in trying the other adventure from this book and the entire collection. I've already ran The Blackapple Brugh, Castle by the Sea, and some others. Many were enjoyable. Blackapple is probably my current favorite due to having both internal consistency and some novelty (and no orcs!).

Anyone can check these adventures, since they are free and all, but maybe sharing my own experiences is useful if you're looking for your next module.

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