Tag Archives: Review

Review – Minotaur’s Betrayal

cover

The second in a minotaur themed trilogy, Minotaur’s Betrayal leaves off where Minotaur’s Bargain ended. There is an assumption of satisfactory completion of the first part, which makes sense for a part 2. The module does offer a hook in if Part 1 was not completed, but it works better as a continuation of the story.

The PCs are offered Minotaur assistance and return to their town to face the impending orc threat.

Spoilers

Along the way they are attacked, though the Minotaur captain is the target. Reaching the town they find it under assault by an orcish band lead by a troll. The force seems a little light on for a full assault, however and once the invasion is repelled the PCs discover it was a diversion for a traitorous rebellion within the Minotaur ranks. Returning to the Minotaur camp they find the honourable leader slain and a usurper in her place. The usurper has given the orcs a powerful item (Banner of Gruumsh) for their support. The PCs must manage the volatile minotaur in order to be best placed to reclaim the tribe.

Following on from this the PCs are directed to infiltrate the fairly extensive orc stronghold and retrieve the lost banner, potentially hampered again by the social values of the minotaur. The stronghold has a number of interesting features, including amusing orc graffiti, eclectic prisoners to free, and a theoretically overwhelming contingent of Orcs if the players aren’t careful. The alternate route provided through the encampment is possibly just as dangerous.

The Chieftain’s quarters holds the stolen Banner of Gruumsh, and ostensibly the focus of PCs incursion, though there is nothing stopping them from slaying the chief and the priestesses, which would also end the threat from the orc tribe.

End Spoilers

Minotaur’s Betrayal is a very different beast from its predecessor. Players might want to wear neck braces, such is the sharpness of the turn. It might catch some players by surprise if they were expecting another deathtrap dungeon style outing, and instead find themselves in a story driven tale of plot and logic that the first instalment lacked.

Truthfully the adventure is all the better for it. As I indicated in my last review I don’t generally enjoy ‘just because’ trap dungeons, and prefer my adventures to have a plot, NPCs that have depth and motivation and logical details such as “where do they get rid of their waste?”. Not only does Minotaur’s Betrayal cover all of these, it manages to be both concise in language and thorough in minutiae, which is a difficult trick to pull off. The Orcs Stronghold – where the main action takes place – genuinely feels like a tribal home, complete with the kinds of details you’d expect.

On a technical level there are a few minor spelling errors, but nothing egregious, and one of the numerous maps didn’t scan well, but retains enough detail to play from (just probably not hand out).

On a design level I did find it odd that the orc stronghold has 2 separate waste areas that apparently aren’t connected, but again this is more a matter of preference than any real issue. Yes I’m nit picking here. There’s not a whole lot to criticise about this adventure.

The layout is easy to follow, and well defined in terms of information presentation and flow. It is easy to read and run from a DM perspective, and offers adjustment advice for more or less powerful or numerous parties.

Final Verdict

I have to say that I love this type of plot driven adventure, and Minotaur’s Betrayal is a great example of it. Along with the core crunch and action, there’s enough incidental detail to bring the locations and cultures alive without overpowering the goal of a smooth running, fast paced adventure. JVC Parry and Phil Beckwith have created an excellent and evocative module here that strikes a good balance between monster bash and roleplaying opportunities.

I rate it 5 stars for presentation and 5 starts for content, for a total of 5 stars. You can pick up a copy of this adventure here

I definitely recommend this one, and – assuming you can reconcile the differing styles – it should be played as part of the trilogy as intended.

I am really looking forward to the third part.

Review – Archetypes by Travis Legge

A Trio of Archetypes

Anyone who has spent any time browsing the DMs Guild over the last 6 months has probably noted the work of Travis Legge – he seems to be putting out mini products at an amazing rate, along with his videos on his Eberron campaign and interviews with DMs Guild creators.

He has also embarked on a crusade to review as many products as humanly possible, which is laudable.

Today I look at three of his recent mini-products – all PWYW Class Archetypes. All three are short, mostly plain text PDFs, though each has a splash of appropriate to semi-appropriate art to give some visual stimulation. Nothing groundbreaking in design here, but aesthetically pleasing enough and better than many PWYW offerings.

 

Order of the Scarred (A Blood Hunter archetype)  

This is an archetype for the Blood Hunter class developed by Matt Mercer (of Critical Role). While not an official class this shouldn’t put off DMs as it is arguably balanced in comparison to the official classes and not overpowered (though I’d gauge it to be on the upper end). It is basically the Witcher, if you are a fan of such things. It is a reasonably complex class however, requiring a level of resource management, and probably not recommended for beginners.

Travis’ take on the class is intriguingly morbid Continue reading

Review – Minotaur’s Bargain

This adventure, from JVC Parry and Phil Beckwith (of PB publishing) is 20 pages, including a cover, 1 page contents and credits, 12 pages of adventure, 4 pages of appendices, 1 page review and 1 page advertisement. It has several colour illustrations and colour maps.

This short, low to mid level adventure casts the PCs in the role of diplomats, representing a local town in an endeavor to secure Minotaur mercenaries against an imminent Orc invasion.

SPOILERS

The adventure wastes little time on story, shanghaiing the characters straight into the action. Negotiations are short, with literally the only outcome resulting in an arena trial to either prove themselves or atone for insult.

The dungeon/arena is a series of deathtrap and skill challenges that must be overcome to progress. Completing 4 unlocks the final arena fight that is a stand up combat against the final boss – a minotaur gladiator. Success or honorable failure gains the aid of the tribe, while abject failure does not.

END SPOILERS

Minotaur’s Bargain is an unapologetic dungeon crawl with a thin veil of story. Each challenge is a HP/Resource sink designed to reduce already limited PC resources (only allowing a single item per character into the challenge). It does however offer several clever ways for pcs to scavenge resources along the way. In many ways this is a team based obstacle course. Mechanically sound, the various encounters are so varied and disparate it would still have many players questioning the logic of such a medley of otherwise unconnected challenges under any other circumstances.

The truly clever presentation of this dungeon is that it fits the stereotypical minotaur maze theme, but dials it up to 11. Realism takes a backseat to ‘cool’ and we’re asked to ignore it much as we forgive the unrealistic elements of an action movie because its an entertaining spectacle.

I am generally not a fan of “just because” or “because magic” deathtrap dungeons, but its honestly hard to dislike this adventure. It gives just enough justification to swallow it, oozes cool, adds stripdown and subtle scavenging to PCs that (by this level) have begun to rely on toys and gimmicks. There’s enough logic, risk/reward and variance in skill checks to keep everyone interested and is thankfully the right length to limit the burnout of oversized dungeons.

This is not an adventure for players or DMs that like roleplay or immersion. There is little here for high Charisma type characters. That being said, this is intended to be the first of a trilogy, so a connecting story is potentially in the works.

Similarly, some players may resent the effective railroad into the dungeon, or try to fight their way out of being pressed into it. The adventure turns on an assumption of success or acceptance of failure.

Final Rating

The adventure has an attractive layout, and makes good use of the sectioned isomwtric maps to break up the text and pad the limited (though appropriate) art. The maps are clean and can double as player handouts.

Minotaur’s bargain is a slick dungeoncrawl that makes the PCs action heroes at the expense of deep immersion. However, it doesn’t really feel like a sacrifice. Its perhaps not the type of adventure you’d want to play every session, but in isolation it is a strong, fun adventure.

I’d rate this 5 stars for presentation and 5 stars for content, for a final rating of 5 Stars.

You can get this very cool adventure here.

Review – The Bleak Harvest

In terms of full disclosure, I was privy to this adventure in its original draft form before it was picked up by TPK games. The author gifted me a copy after release.

 

As this is an adventure review, I’ll write a brief summation, then I’ll indicate spoilers to come. If you intend to be a player, skip the middle section and go straight to my final comments.

The Bleak Harvest

The Bleak Harvest is a 66 page adventure from Jason LeMaitre and TPK games, with an evocative cover, a credits page, 6 ½ pages of background & setup, 46 pages of adventure, 7 pages of appendices, 1 page advertisement and 2 pages of legal text. It is in appropriately muted colours, with mostly B&W art (a few colour) and colour maps.

Warning – The Bleak Harvest is a true Horror adventure. The themes within are both potentially confronting and in many ways a very subtle creep-up-on-you nasty. This adventure isn’t for everyone. At times it runs a very close line to where I think the limits lie in the Open Licence, but never over. There’s no overly gratuitous violence or body horror, but it still hits you.

For those unfamiliar, TPK games runs a dual rules format, where Pathfinder and 5 rules are placed concurrently in each section, with a text colour change noting the distinction. It takes a little getting used to, but it’s not confusing or distracting when done well (see Final Rating).

The premise of the adventure is that the PCs are asked to check up on the King’s cousin, who has been recovering in the prestigious Willowbrook Saniatarium for the last year. The King has lost contact with the institution and his messengers have failed to return. The PCs – presumably because of their skill set (8th-9th level PCs) are asked to investigate. Several other hooks are provided for less civic minded adventurers.

 

SPOILERS

The sanitarium has fallen under the influence of a Lovecraftian ‘outer being’ style entity, which is engineering its entry into the world through a ritual sacrifice of those afflicted with madness. Its earthly agent is a broken acolyte (seeking reunion with lost loved ones) who has complete access to the facilities, inscribing symbols and assisting a cult and idolised aberration to complete the dark rites by giving them access to the 25 souls-driven-mad needed to complete the ritual.

The party has just 2 days to uncover the conspiracy and halt the ritual. A timeline of events is provided for the DM.

What follows is a sandbox style investigation through a stereotypically creepy location (which is not a criticism) with some very subtle and clever elements, including the fact that identifying the duke is exceptionally difficult, but logically accounted for.  The records are gone, the staff are mad, confused or generally unhelpful, and the duke – by virtue of his madness – has developed a new personality. Better yet, the mechanic that allows for this has him take on one of several developed characters (the DM chooses or rolls randomly) ensuring a fairly integrated investigation where no one of the possibilities is more or less fleshed out than the others. Each offers insight into the current situation, but only if the PCs can navigate their unique psychosis. There are enough red herrings and personal agendas amongst the NPCs to generate true doubt, and again these are handled with depth and complexity.

The investigation eventually leads to a showdown with an otherworldly horror, either because the PCs themselves have uncovered the conspiracy, or because hew timeline advances the action. Its a solid mechanic that keeps the adventure moving without feeling forced.

SPOILERS END

 

The adventure has suggestions on managing tension, horror and madness, difficult choices and options that really put pressure on the PCs and advice on increasing the difficulty or injecting a little chaos into the mix.

There is a surprising amount of content and complexity here. There is no wasted space and a lot going on here. In addition to managing the themes, the DM needs to control the tempo and the various NPC and creature personalities, motivations and agendas, not to mention a timeline that moves in the background and numerous ongoing and triggered effects.

This is not an adventure for a novice DM!  

 

Final Rating

Firstly, Jason is clearly a horror fan, and a fan of ‘good’ horror at that. If you know your genre it doesn’t take much to see the nods to various tropes without overdoing it or throwing it in your face. As a story adventure it is amazing. If you don’t run this at night with the lights down and play creepy ambient music (even if such embellishments are not in your normal repertoire) you are doing your players a massive disservice. Horror is all about setting a mood, and this adventure delivers in spades.

There are, however, a few technical issues with the product.

There’s no contents page and no bookmarks in the PDF. It makes navigation difficult and cumbersome, and I have to say it’s one of my personal pet hates.

No significant spelling or grammatical issues jumped out at me, and I didn’t see any major rules mechanics problems. However, there are places where the text colour change to differentiate the 5e from Pathfinder rules is missing, and odd places where the rules language deviates from the standard. There are also a few layout issues where text is affected by the placement of art, and the text bounces from left aligned to justified throughout.

While the maps are good – courtesy of Elven Tower – half are unmarked and half are keyed. No “player” versions are available for the keyed ones. Again not a major issue, but it would be a nice inclusion.

Finally, the PDF price is $10. That’s not unreasonable, but it is at the upper end for a 60 odd page PDF. If you are like me, your expectations would be high for that price range. I can be more forgiving of a lower priced item. I feel like the production values might have missed the mark for the asking price.

The ‘minor’ issues begin to add up here. None are deal breakers, it really clashes that the author’s attention to detail is not matched by the layout and production. It could really use a v1.1 with some of the easy fixes addressed.

Having said that, nothing in the above critique should put you off buying this adventure! The content, presentation and atmosphere of the story alone easily eclipse all the small imperfections. If you are a fan of otherworldly influence horror this adventure is definitely up there with the best I’ve encountered.

I really look forward to more of Jason’s work in the future, though he’s set himself a lofty bar to clear with his first effort.

I’d rate it 5 Stars for content and 4 stars for presentation, for an overall rating of 4.5 Stars

You can get this creepy, atmospheric horror adventure here on DrivethruRPG.

Reveiw – Deadly Dungeon Doors

Deadly Dungeon Doors by Glen Cooper is 60 pages of… well… exactly what it advertises.

It has a colour cover with a very enticing illustration, a content/credit page, a foreword, and then 54 pages of content, 2 advertisements and a revisions summary. The content is in 2 column format, essentially B&W (there are intermittent ‘splashes’ of colour added in tables), some basic unique B&W artworks, with a nice clean layout. It lacks bookmarks, and for a 60 page electronic book that’s a big comfort omission, requiring the reader to manually navigate the material.

Chapter 1 deals with slight rules variations, and the ‘how to use’ the contents. To be honest while it’s a simplified mechanic I’m not sure it was a needed departure from the 5e core rules. Especially if you are ‘dropping the doors in’ as it advises you, you might very well have differing mechanics in your adventure, which could cause some confusion. If you were prepared to adopt the mechanic wholesale for all objects it might work. For me, I could take it or leave it.

Chapter 2 is a series of roll up tables to creature a truly random, unique door or set of doors. Aspects from size, materials, lock type, traps, level of concealment, quirks and more.

Chapter 3 is a series of tables with pre-generated doors assigned to appropriate various locations. The tables are set up as random rolls, but you could just as easily pick and choose as you like. These are a quick and easy selection tool. It’s a good inclusion.

Appendix A is a fun little flowchart to help you keep track of your creation process, as there are lots of variables.

Appendix B & C are Door Record Sheets to allow you to save and immortalise your creation. You get one larger spacious record sheet I assume for the doors you are really proud of – complete with a diagram box if you are artistically inclined – and a second page that has 2 summary record sections. It’s a neat inclusion that shows a real attention to detail.

Appendix D is a glossary that redirects back to sections of the book and the official rules where they apply. It’s a pretty slick summation, and I can see it being very helpful while using this supplement. The one thing that puzzles me is that it’s not in alphabetical order. If you want to use it you need to scan the table for what you want, then follow further direction in the entry. It’s not as user-friendly as an alphabetical listing would be.

Appendix E contains 13 unique – even by the standards of this supplement – and flavourful doors that range from clever, to deadly, to downright fiendish. Each comes with its own B&W artwork and these are a genuine joy to behold. Some are not suited to a more story driven campaign, but would be right at home in any dungeon or more light-hearted affair. Honestly, this section alone would make this a worthwhile purchase.

Appendix F is a 1 page example of a door created using the material in the book

Appendix G  is a nice little “Rogues Helper” checklist. It presents like fluff but actually reads like crunch, offering genuine game mechanics advice on dealing with doors and traps.

And finally Appendix H is a series of monsters that pretend to be, hide within or are integral to certain doors.

Advertising – While I have no issue with in supplement advertising one of the central pages of the book is a full-page advertisement. Ugh. Ugly and unnecessary. It reminded me of the magazine style advertising of the 80’s and 90’s. In a magazine of unconnected content I could overlook it as part of the transition from one article to the next. In a cohesive book on a single subject it was jarring and really ruined the sense of flow and immersion. It could have been discreetly placed at the back of the book. There is a second advertisement late in the book, but it’s more subtle and collects artwork like a handout, so it’s not so jarring.

Final Rating

There are only a few spelling issues, and none that really jump out. I saw no mechanical mistakes, and offers a range of difficulties meaning it is usable at all levels. It’s a clean book without being pretty, and the art is detailed enough to meet the needs of a rule book. I think some detailed colour art might have propelled it from being a great book to a truly outstanding book, but it’s a minor issue. The lack of bookmarks makes navigation cumbersome, which is also minor, but annoying.

All in all this is an excellent sourcebook and every DM can find something here. As a toolkit it is comprehensive and the plug and play doors are just masterful.

I’d rate it 5 stars for content and 4 stars for presentation, for an overall rating of 4.5 stars

You can get this fantastic book of doors here on DM’s Guild