Adventure Reviews

Adventure reviews by David Schirduan.

I want to take a break from designing games and try my hand at writing some adventures. To that end I’ve been playing as many adventures as I can get my hands on!

What follows are my thoughts on some of those adventures. Not all of these adventures are good. But they are all interesting in some way or another. Enjoy!

Oh! And unlike my Game Reviews, I’ve played through all of these adventures.

Table of Contents

  1. Silent Titans
  2. The Sunken Fort
  3. The Mysterious Menagerie of Doctor Orville Boros
  4. Stygian Garden of Abelia Prymm
  5. Gardens of Ynn
  6. The Stygian Library
  7. Tower of the Stargazer
  8. Tower of the Black Pearl
  9. Sea Queen Escapes
  10. Tomb of the Serpent Kings
  11. Hot Springs Island
  12. Sailors on a Starless Sea
  13. Servants of the Cinder Queen

Silent Titans

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Written by Patrick Stuart, art by Dirk Leichty

Silent Titans actually works.

I originally bought this for the artwork. It’s gorgeous and unique and fresh and worth the price of the book all on it’s own. Go buy it now for a pretty thing on your bookshelf.

I’ve played a few “gonzo” D&D adventures and most of them were bad (with one brilliant exception).

At my table touchstones are important. Knights, goblins, druids, magic swords, and wizard towers are all cliche and have been done a thousand times. That’s why everyone knows them. And it makes my job as GM so much easier.

When I say “You see a black stone tower rising above the treetops with red smoke pouring from it” everyone gets the right idea in their heads. I know what they’re expecting and it’s easy to keep all the players on the same page.

The stranger something is, the harder it is to communicate without being boring or confusing.

Silent Titans is bizarre, freaky, and confusing as hell…but somehow it still works. How did Patrick Stuart pull that off? Read More…

The Sunken Fort

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PDF: $5

Created by Nickolas Zachary Brown

This 80 room dungeon starts off with a promis to the GM:

Preparation: None required!

And I was shocked to find it was true.

This thing really is a breeze to run. The rooms are well-explained and straightforward. Here’s an example room:

09: Two heavily armored figures spar in a small pit of sand with sword and shield. There are weapon racks around the room, with old decrepit weapons.

Armored Figures – (These are armored oozes who are focused on their spar, but will immediately attack the party as soon as they notice them being too loud or obnoxious.)

Weapon Racks – (Primarily hooks drilled into wall bricks. One such hook is attached to a loose brick, which if pulled out will reveal a piece of jewelry worth 500gp.)

ARMORED OOZE x 2Wield sword & shield
HD2+2 AC19 SPD9
*Upon Death: The black ooze will seep out of the armor, dead.

It’s so clean and clear. Filled with cleverly hidden treasure, ingenious traps, and probably too much oil, the Sunken Fort is a joy to play through.

But it’s an even bigger joy to GM. I put it up there with Hot Springs island in ease of use. And that is high praise indeed!

The Mysterious Menagerie of Doctor Orville Boros

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PDF: Free

Created by Skerples

This is wildly creative, outrageously fun, and 100% free. Buy it now.

Try to imagine Jurrasic Park as run by Willy Wonka with the humor of Douglas Adams.

The adventure begins with the PCs being invited to explore a theme park created by a an unstable genius. To quote my favorite part:

The Menagerie was not designed to handle typical human behavior. If the PCs kill, mind control, intimidate, or otherwise neutralize all rivals AND keep their hands to themselves AND listen politely to the Doctor’s tour then nothing goes wrong.

Almost everything in the Menagerie is unsafe, precariously balanced, or fragile. In summary, if the PCs do anything they typically do when exploring a new area, or merely interact with the exhibits, Things Go Awry.

The adventure also includes SONGS that the GM sings at different parts of the adventure. If nothing else you should download this to read the “Fossils Song”. It’s a hoot.

This adventure is just everything I want from a fun-house dungeon adventure. My only complaint is that it’s a little too long for a one-shot.

Stygian Garden of Abelia Prymm

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PDF: $5 / Print: $10

Created by Red Moon Medicine Show

I played this one way before I heard about Gardens of Ynn, and I was excited to try something creepy and garden-y.

This adventure delivered a little more than that, at a slower pace than I expected.

The adventure is spread over a few locations:

  • A multi-level manor overrun with spiders, goats, and statues; some of which come to life and some of which don’t. Your players will probably destroy them all just to be sure.
  • A garden path with a dozen or so locations.
  • A few smaller buildings and underground areas.

While there are a lot of interesting locations, things are fairly spread out. This is not an action-packed romp but a careful excavation of an abandoned property.

The maps are beautiful, and the players also get a version of the map without all the secrets and details, which is really cool!

I love all the neat plants as well. Instructions on what they do, how to cultivate them, etc.

Really fun adventure if you want a break from your garden variety dungeon crawl.

Gardens of Ynn

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PDF: $3 / Print: $18

Written by Emmy “Cavegirl” Allen

The Gardens of Ynn is a point-crawl adventure set in an ever-shifting extradimensional garden. Each expodition generates its route as it explores, resulting in new vistas being unlocked with every visit.

I bought Ynn about a year ago and thought “Wow this looks cool. I really should sit down and read it.” 10 months later “Oh hey! I almost forgot about Ynn.” And now I sorely regret not reading it sooner.

This book is a master-class on evocative details that impact the game. This is something I’ve REALLY struggled with while writing Bone Marshes.

“The hot room causes d6-3 damage per turn” is mechanically sound, but very boring. “The sweltering heat burns your eyes and makes every cell in your body scream for water” is very evocative, but how do I communicate that through the gameplay? Here’s how Emmy handles that:

At the bottom, liquid fire, something between molten metal and condensed plasma. Falling into the fire deals 2d6 damage a round. Merely being in the burning vapours coming off it deals 1 damage per round.

Brilliant. If you want evocative, fresh writing and bizarre, interesting gardens then you MUST grab a copy of Ynn. Especially for $3. This is so good and so cheap that it should be a CRIME!

After you’ve bough a copy you can use my Ynn Generator to help you come up with locations quickly.

The Stygian Library

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PDF: $4

Written by Emmy “Cavegirl” Allen

Remember the Gardens of Ynn? Just above this one? It’s like that, but LIBRARIES!

What more do you need to know? Why haven’t you bought this already?

After you’ve bough a copy you can use my Stygian Generator to help you come up with locations quickly.

Tower of the Stargazer

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PDF: $6 / Print: $12

Written by James Edward Raggi IV

Designed for Lamentations of the Flame Princess

A mysterious black stone tower shrouded in lightening promises incredible mysteries and dangerous secrets…

I’ve never run an adventure that presented players with so many THINGS in it. Buttons, levers, strange contraptions and experiments abound. Many of the devices are described in detail, allowing players to experiment and discover their function.

The near-absence of monsters does not diminish this adventure in the slightest. In fact I’ve never seen an adventure maintain this kind of tension and engagement without regular monster encounters! Stargazer provides interesting rooms time and time again.

If you enjoy seeing your players slowly puzzle their way through a strange locale, you can’t do much better than Tower of the Stargazer.

Tower of the Black Pearl

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PDF: $7 / Print: $10

Written by Harley Stroh

Designed for Dungeon Crawl Classics

Once every 10 years the tides get low enough to reveal the top of an ancient submerged tower…

What’s cool about this adventure is that the tower is underwater; so the party enters at the top and slowly works their way down. Once they trigger an event near the end of the adventure the tower starts to fill with water, and it’s a race back up to the top!

Even if they make it through the tower, the stolen treasure is a powerful magical artifact that draws the attention of powerful entities. When I ran this, we had more trouble trying to sell the Pearl than we did getting it.

My favorite room is filled with candles, each representing a Hero. Players can interact with these candles, even finding their own brightly burning flames. If they go out for any reason, the equivalent heroes perish. I love to present level 1 players with opportunities to influence the world in serious ways.

It’s a really solid adventure set along the coast, and whenever my players get a hankering for swashbuckling, this is where we start.

Sea Queen Escapes

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PDF: $7 / Print: $10

Written by Harley Stroh

Designed for Dungeon Crawl Classics

The characters begin to receive dreams about a trapped princess beneath the sea. If only someone could help her…

What’s interesting about this adventure is that it’s split into several small phases, each one like it’s own mini-dungeon. Since the dreams continue until the adventure is resolved, it works well as filler between a larger campaign. I usually mix it in with Tower of the Black Pearl.

Each phase is excellent and thematic; a solid mixture of puzzles and combat. Players go from exploring a seaside cavern, to delving inside a turtle, and finally an ancient underwater prison.

Even better, once the adventure concludes the players are thanked by an underwater race and invited to visit. A simple hex-crawl is included and could form the bones of many more adventures.

Tomb of the Serpent Kings

PDF: FREE

Written by Skerples

Designed for OSR systems

Recently uncovered, this tunnel underground may be the fabled tomb of the long-dead Serpent Kings!

I wish I had discovered this adventure earlier in my gaming career. Written as a teaching dungeon, Serpent Kings attempts to instruct your players on all of the traditional things found in a dungeon crawl.

Each room is designed with a lesson in mind, helpfully called out for the GM to read. “This room teaches you that dungeons have patterns that can be exploited.” “This room teaches you that dangers can often be avoided.” And so on.

If you are a new GM, or if you have new players, this is my number 1 recommended starting adventure.

Hot Springs Island

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Player Guide PDF: $15 / Print: $40

GM Book PDF: $15 / Print: $60

Written by Jacob Hurst

Completely system neutral

Hot Springs Island, a new adventure from Jacob Hurst, is alive.

I don’t mean the books are alive, although they look sharp enough to cut somebody. I mean the fictional island feels like a living, breathing, screaming place. There are adventures out there with better stories, more interesting puzzles, or stranger creatures. But no adventure bleeds like Hot Springs Island. Read More…

Sailors on a Starless Sea

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PDF: $7 / Print: $20

Written by Harley Stroh

Designed for Dungeon Crawl Classics

You awake to find your village burning. In your panic to put out the flames, it takes a few hours before you realize that only your small group remains…

This adventure is built as a “Funnel”. Each player generates 3-4 low-level villagers and you run this large group of characters through a dangerous meat-grinder adventure. Any characters that survive gain a level and pick a “real” class.

What’s neat about this adventure is how quickly things escalate. Villagers start out just looking for their friends and family, but by the end of this 4-hour adventure they are preventing the return of an ancient Dread Lord.

It’s also a nice way to keep the “My village burned down, so I became a Hero” backstory without it being a cliche. It unites the party with a common backstory and gives them feeling of place in this world. A fantastic way to start a DCC campaign.

Servants of the Cinder Queen

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PDF: $4

Written by Jason Lutes

Designed for Dungeon World

A volcano cult is attempting to summon an ancient evil, endangering the innocent town below…

Built for Dungeon World, Cinder Queen is remarkable for it’s adventure structure. Each room/area is not described in detail but with impressions.

Here’s a traditional room description:

“This large room is ringed with torches along the edge with a deep pool in the southwest corner. Every few hours a priest comes in and feeds the dangerous creature living in the pool. One of the torches near the water can be wielded as a Rod of Flame.”

compared to Cinder Queen:

Impressions:

  • Ringed with Torches
  • Deep pool with dangerous creature

Discoveries:

  • One torch is actually a Rod of Flame

When players enter the room, roll 2d6:

  • On a 10+ the priest is here, but is intensely distracted with feeding the creature
  • On a 7-9 the priest is not here
  • On a 6- the priest is just about to enter the room

Not only does this make each room easy to grasp, it gives the GM a lot of flexibility in how they describe the room. The layout in particular is really nice for referencing at the table.