Sunday, February 5, 2017

Review: A Baker's Denizen - A Labyrinth Lord Adventure

Disclaimer:  I received a free a copy of this adventure from the writer for evaluation purposes.
The adventure can currently be purchased at RPGnow here.

This was not a bad little adventure. Although I level quite a bit of criticism against it in the sections to follow, I think it actually holds together rather well as a situation for PCs to stumble across in the course of their travels. Aside from the typical itinerant adventurer scenario, it seems like just the sort of thing to include in a city watch style campaign.

The art was sparse but decently done.  The three dimensional dungeon diagram was nice, although it seemed an unusual choice to provide both color and black-and-white versions of the same illustration in the document.

The art on the first page (defacto cover art) isn't bad, but seems a bit arbitrary (the door to a bakery?  A crypt?).  Also, the text box for the credits runs over the illustration.  The margin art is presumably meant to look like some kind of elaborate book binding, and the pages had coloration to evoke a sort of stained velum appearance. I'm not generally a huge fan of this sort of thing, but found it unobtrusive in this case.

The scenario focused mainly on a specific location adventure, with some reference to other areas of the city (we’re told in passing of a Merchants Quarter, Craft Alley and "Enclave"). But reading it, I found myself wishing for more of a city overview with random tables of emerging incidents (like the Baker’s issue).  Still, for what actually it is, the write-up seems adequate.

I suppose I'm being a bit puritanical here, but I could have done the incidental discovery of a “phallic device”. It doesn’t appear integral to the unfolding situation, and the product really contains no other overt sexual elements I can recall. In my mind this single inclusion doesn’t change much, except to delaying the age I might want my kids to read it.

There are other passages where I believe the author was intending to leave things up to the adjudication of the Game Master, but to my reading simply leave situations and motives unclear:

"Greymalkin may be predisposed to help the Characters achieve their goals, if it seems to fit her overall plan"
What is her overall plan?  Just to get free?  Why not act before now?

"If the crypt is under assault ... Greymalkin will not act to protect Ystala. Her death will free the Marilith on the Prime Material Plane to wreak chaos without restraint."
Might be useful to know what obligations Gremalkin is actually under if it can decide not to defend the witch.

"Ystala’s vengeance would not be denied..."
What vengeance?  The only people we've been given to understand had wronged her are her former master (dead at this point) and her father (never discussed again).

A part of me sees Ystala’s relationship with the homunculus as an unnecessary, superfluous detail, since it is now dead and only tangentially relevant to any current action. It’s not impossible those events may influence her actions during the current adventure, but it seems unclear how that might be the case.

Some of the organizational choices seemed a bit odd as well:

Some monster details are provided in the sections where a creature first appears, other details are provided in a later Monsters section.  I generally prefer monster info in the section where the creature is appearing, so I don’t have to flip around to reference it.  I can understand separate section if the monsters recur frequently.  However, I really would prefer at least a physical description of new monsters in the section they're used in.  I'd never heard of a Dark Creeper before and had to flip to the end to find it.

The supplement starts out giving an very general overview (almost a teaser) of the weird situation leading to the adventure, then a section on the city of Elbion in general, then back to the explaining the adventure background leading into the adventure itself.  It's not a huge issue, but in general I'd be more inclined to skip the initial scenario, start right off with the city description and transition from there into the adventure itself.  The overview doesn't really add anything, although if the document had a cover it could be used as a cover blurb.

Descriptions of Ystala herself are split between two sections of the document:  Page 4 describes quite a bit about her and gives her stats.  Page 8 gives more information about her history.  Some of the information in both sections is useful and interesting.  But I’d prefer to have it all in one place, and it seemed to me some of her history was a bit superfluous and could have been included in a shortened form.

The crypt map comes after all the descriptions of locations it contains. I'd personally prefer it come first, so I know in advance the layout of the numbered rooms being mentioned.

The map shows eight sarcophogi, but only three are described. I suspect any players I game with would routinely check every single sarcophagus, so more ideas of their contents would be helpful. A compass rose would also be useful, as one section of the text refers to Ystala being in the southwest. I believe this means behind the top of the stairs, but is somewhat ambiguous given isometric depiction of the area.

The new magical items and weird materials found were a nice touch.  They tended to be low powered and/or very specific in use.  In my humble opinion games could generally use a few more things along these lines in preference to the usual plethora of magic wands, armor, weapons and potions.

Despite these criticisms, the Baker’s Denizen seems a perfectly serviceable little adventure which would probably be a perfect fit for most fantasy settings. Would make a good entry on any random city encounters table.

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