Small Update + Review: Ransom of the Riverboat Queen

Update: Have you ever been curious about the Age of Dusk? Do you even know what I'm talking about? Check some of these articles out:

I just received the rough draft of the Palace of Unquiet Repose--the first adventure in the Age of Dusk setting. PrinceofNothing's handiwork will soon be live with a Kickstarter for art....stay tuned in a month, or two...

Alright...time for another review. I promised I would do 4....however, I found I have somewhat enjoyed doing them. Not sure if they are helpful or not, but perhaps I'll continue.

Disclaimer: Thorkhammer sent me this adventure for a review. He plans to stick it up on his Lulu site:

He may or may not take some of the suggestions under consideration from the review, but this adventure should be up soon....for free! Looks like all his adventures are free on Lulu for a limited time. Why are you still reading this?...go check his stuff out!

Ransom of the Riverboat Queen Author: RC Pinnell Levels: 5th-9th With the slavers of the Pomarj defeated, the weary adventurers are left little time to rest when they receive a message from one of the nobles of the land, begging them to come to her aid and hear her plea. This adventure is to serve as a link between the TSR Slavers series of adventures (A 1-4) and the Giants adventures (G 1-3). SPOILERS! Synopsis: The party is tasked with finding a noble’s daughter that disappeared during the height of the Slave Lord’s power. Fearing her daughter was dead, hope has returned as Baroness Dunwick has received some cryptic letters that claim her daughter is alive and finally a ransom letter for the return of her daughter. The Baroness would rather use the money to hire adventurers to retrieve her daughter as she has a clue of where her daughter may be located. She wants them to infiltrate a fort/town, find her daughter, and bring her back. She is willing to pay double of what the council of nobles agreed upon for their eradication of the Slave Lords, or a land grant of 20 acres each for her safe return. Ok….hang on! 20 acres of land? I’m in! I’m hooked on that idea. Such a simple idea but something I haven’t seen in awhile for a reward. It’s much more interesting than just coins. It can also lead to the next adventure—clearing your land of any evil, etc. Wondrous! I love it. RC Pinnell or Thorkhammer graciously sent me his new adventure for a review when I said I would take a look. As soon as I said that, I suddenly had a bunch of projects of my own pop up that needed my attention, but I made the mistake of taking a peek first at Ransom of the Riverboat Queen...saw the 20 acres of land reward and I got sucked in to reviewing this first because I wanted to know what my characters had to do to get some land. I think there are some hits with this adventure and some misses. The plot and setting makes sense and pulled me in---bringing me back to thinking back about the Slaver Lord adventures. However, just like different gaming styles, I think there can be different designer styles and DM’s either prefer one way or another or maybe a splattering of both. Thorkhammer has a style in designing that’s a bit different than my own and yet, I can see some appeal that some DM’s would really like the flexibility, while others might need a little more information. So this is one guy’s respectful opinion of the adventure, let’s dive in. Improvements/Suggestions: There are two major things I disliked about the writing in this adventure and then I got some nit picks. 1. The ‘polite designer’ tone or approach. Yes, I know this doesn’t necessarily relate to the adventure itself, but it bothered me enough to want to say something. “To be developed by the DM as desired”, or “Should you wish to do so, you may design the tower yourself….” or “These NPCs should all be given their own reasons for being in the Keep/Village, but need not have personal connections to the overall plot of the adventure. In other words, be as creative with them as you wish.” I don’t feel the need to write this or read it in an adventure--it’s unnecessary. From what I hear--and I do it myself, is when you purchase an adventure, you usually change it the way you want to fit into your campaign anyways...or you steal some ideas and change things up. We aren’t looking for permission or to receive any blessings...we are just going to do it. Perhaps Thorkhammer is just trying to be polite, and I can appreciate that, but I’d refrain from doing this as it just adds word padding. IF you REALLY feel like you need to express this, then add an Author’s Note in the beginning and state it once. Otherwise, just state your idea and let people run with it or not with no apologies from you, the designer, who has put the hard work into the adventure in the first place. 2. There were 2-3 times where I caught some railroading attempts---’guards get divine powers to make it impossible to siege the keep’, or ‘areas become magically trapped so you can’t enter’. I personally try to let the players do whatever they want and roll with it. I’d rather have something in the adventure that helps me so that it doesn’t put me in that situation in the first place or gives me some clues on the aftermath. For example, there are several times where it’s stated for the DM that this is a stealth mission (stealth missions are cool by the way), but it’s never really expressed to the players in the game. Instead of a letter, it might be warranted to have a roleplay meeting with the Baroness. She could be more encouraging for stealth (pay more?, more reward? Concerned for her daughters safety?) and discreteness when she is hiring the characters which might of taken the idea of storming the castle completely off the table. I believe it’s written in the adventure that a DM could encourage the party for stealth that the Baroness would appreciate discreteness, but I think it could be wrapped up into the roleplay to be more effective. The clues come from the coach house, but maybe from the received letters, there is more clues that the missing daughter isn’t in the keep at all, but in the town somewhere. Or if the party does take on the keep, give a few ideas of what may happen afterwards (maybe nobles come in with soldiers and make things even more complicated). I didn’t see a problem if the characters did take on the whole keep—it doesn’t seem to affect the adventure, but would completely rip apart the stealth mission vibe—which I think is cool. Let’s compare corpses to adventures for a second. There are fresh corpses with all the details (not a lot of flexibility for the DM), there are skeletons with just the bare minimum (tons of room for DM flexibility) and then there are zombies with full bits and some bones showing. This adventure hovers between the skeleton and the zombie. The skeletal parts of this adventure---some are perfect and in other instances, I think it needed a little more info. For example, the town is skeletal. It has a list of buildings with numbers on the map, letters (A-Z) on areas that have a paragraph of information, and finally a section of Special NPC’s/special buildings that has even more information. This is PERFECT. There is no need to stat and explain every private house and their inhabitants. This was the correct approach. There is enough info for the DM to run the buildings. However, I have a few suggestions of what I wish was there: 1. A table of NPC names and personalities. Running town adventures can be tough, so having some ready-made NPC names and quirks makes it easier for the DM and makes the place feel more alive. Need a blacksmith name? check the table and looks like his name is Galkor and has a eye twitch..boom. 2. A rumor table for the Tavern of the Salty Wench, and possibly another rumor table for the town itself that the party may overhear while on the streets and/or dealing with vendors. Number 2 is important because the party gets one clue—letters are coming from the coach station. There is a secret door that might be missed to sewers/cellars….and then what? What if the players get stuck? What if they don’t find the clues and start putting 2 and 2 together? Having some rumors in the town would help lead them in a direction (look in the warehouse/sewer/etc. for more clues!) while presenting good roleplay opportunities as the party attempts to remain discrete and not ‘ask too many questions’. There ARE glimpses of this, with a madman and a NPC, which I think is on the right track, but I think rumors would help a DM further if the players are asking around town. It might also be handy to have a table of where the clues are all located at (pg. numbers)—a little cheat sheet for the DM. All the pirates of the River Queen are beautiful, comely a magnet drew them all together. While this doesn’t really affect the adventure, I think it limits some colorful and memorable characters that could have been used, i.e. when all the same, the exotic feel is lost. “Exploration of the warehouses is not necessary (with the exception to follow), but are ripe for wandering encounters with things like Giant Rats, Weasels and other vermin. Even the placement of a unique item, hidden and forgotten by time.” Above is an example of the skeletal parts of the adventure, but there is some addition of some monster ideas—which is great. I’d also want a few treasure ideas—I’d need a little more on the fly. Maybe a rough table for monsters and treasure. Like I said above, some DM’s might like this for the flexibility so they can add their own ideas into some of the areas, but if I just picked this up, opened it, and was trying to run it immediately without prep, I’d have to be good that night on thinking up things on the fly if the party started exploring there. “their personal treasure at the moment is M x100, N x10, and Q x5.” I would prefer to just rattle off the treasure that is there, instead of stopping play to roll up loot. BUT, I could see how some DM’s might like the randomness of it. Maybe the carriage house, warehouses—all could go into an Appendix or different chapter. They are important to the adventure so should be easily found. Thorkhammer uses capitalized titles to break up the sections—which is good, but I think a clean break/start of a new page with more white space if needed might help with finding the different sections quicker...maybe even a table of contents. Finally, some rooms are labeled ‘Large Room’. A different word then large or small can be more evocative. There is also that opportunity to help the DM immediately visualize the room by saying Dripping Cavern, Stench Cavern, etc. Anything like that helps the DM remember what was in the room better than all of them being ‘large’ or ‘small’. The Good Ok gang, this adventure has a really cool story going for it. The background and introduction is short and tight. There is some political intrigue, friends backstabbing friends, and some plot twists. It’s a stealth mission so that is already some good interaction between the players as they can plan and try to figure out how to proceed. This isn’t your regular ‘go enter a dungeon and kill things’. This is an adventure where the players are going to have to use their brains and figure out a mystery, while being stealthy and discrete. There is definitely some excellent clay here that can be molded into a really cool adventure. There are some EXCELLENT design decisions in this adventure. Having a zoomed in map taking up a quarter page and all the text that describes each room on one page? BAM! This is VERY DM friendly! This is where Thorkhammer shines with helping out the DM. No flipping through PDF or even having too print off the maps—it’s all right there. Thorkhammer puts room dimensions in brackets (20’x30’). I really dig this. takes up space and this information is on the map, BUT, it allows a DM to quickly rattle off the dimensions for the player mapper without flipping back to the map, count the squares, etc. Well done. There are clues about the missing girl sprinkled everywhere in the area. A locket, diaries, old papers, a map, even some of the guards and madmen may know some kernels of information. These little bits of information and clues ‘feels’ like treasure and enhances the anticipation of players for coming close to their goal. Mysteries are hard to pull off in my opinion. While I think there could be more nudging and assistance (i.e. rumors), the sprinkling of clues is pretty cool. Speaking of madmen. A guardian attacks anything unless a command word is used... Perceptive characters are able to find the command word—it’s smart design and rewards players for listening and figuring out things. I always hate it when there is some sort of command word and no clues for the party to figure it out. This adventure doesn’t have that problem. These are river pirates...yes? There is all kinds of different loot in here...alcohol kegs, fancy clothes, coats, tapestries, elven statues...this all makes sense! Some of the magic items are different. Like a Magic Silver Dagger. It doesn’t give bonuses to hit or damage, but can let you swim like a triton and breathe underwater. Better than just the by the book magic items. Or how about a Dagger of Severing! Another thing I like to see in adventures are little fluff an injured war dog. A character takes care of it? The dog will become bound to that character, becoming a faithful companion. There are a few wandering encounter tables. I usually like the monsters to be doing something to make the place feel alive, but there is an Events encounter which is great—ghastly smells, strange shadows...this is all cool stuff and makes sense for where it’s located. “Mostly bought or bartered from looters, the Riverboat Queen’s plan was to return everything to those claiming them as once belonging to them…for a small fee.” there is all this stuff, hoarded in the warehouses and this small fort/village. Enter the party who may take some of this stuff for loot. There are Adventure Hooks….and I call this situation an Adventure Sinker, because I relate it to hook, line and sinker….maybe I like fishing. Anyways, an Adventure Sinker is when the party doesn’t need a Hook...their actions cause something to happen. The party takes some items as loot? Suddenly they may have some nobles coming after them to retrieve their stuff or other problems that could affect the PC’s later on—this is great stuff that makes the world feel alive, creates interaction, roleplay, and can make a DM’s job a little easier. With that one sentence, it doesn’t spell out anything that might happen...but it spurred my imagination of what could happen, and that’s what good design and writing should do. Conclusion: This adventure has a really cool vibe and stealth mission. I think the plot is well thought out and makes perfect sense for after the Slave Lord adventures. It’s skeletal frame in some aspects is enough for your imagination to bring your own flavor and fill in the details very easily. Some DM’s might need to prepare more before running the adventure as I wouldn’t call it an “open the book and immediately play” and some players may need a few more nudges in the right direction. But this adventure does act like a tool for a DM in the sense for providing some ideas that allows plenty of flexibility….and expansion!! Did I mention there is a map of a temple on an island nearby? The ending is a little abrupt and hints that there may be a part 2 which I would be interested to check out someday.

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