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The Big Book of Spiders
by Tim S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/05/2014 12:26:47
First off, when Dylan told me he was writing an entire book about spiders, I was a little nervous. I thought it might get monotonous. Creating an adventure out of just spiders, I wasn't sure how that was going to work out. Wow, I was pleasantly surprised. And doff my Steelers hat in his general direction.

Before I go further, I want to say something about the man behind the spiders. Dylan has been producing some very cool and interesting adventures for the OSR for, I think, two or more years now. I've got a copy of each and every one. I think he is one of the hidden talents within an expanding interest in old school gaming. I say hidden because I don't think he gets the notoriety he deserves. His work is always clean and crisp, interesting and fun and Dylan has a distinct style so his adventures and products are different from anyone else's you'll find out there.

To the review, The Big Book of Spiders is much different from Dylan's other offerings. Besides being focused on spiders, there is a very cool narrative that runs through the book. And as your reading it, you realize you are the one in the narrative speaking about the book your holding in your hand. Dylan executes this like a professional hit man, cool and calm.

The first section of the book is a mini monster manual that focuses on all the devious species of spiders. Again, you might think there would be some redundancy, but I am here to report that every entry is distinct. There are 24 spiders for you to use in your adventures. And the fact is, I used one of the spiders for an adventure I wrote for The Manor #6. I read the entry and knew just where to put the creepy little guy.

The second section is spells & equipment. A close look at marketable resources that a spider produces such as silks and poisons. Regular items and magic items with a spider theme. I think I may have to add some of the items into one of my stores. A fence for a thieves guild and the fence has a thing for spiders. That would be cool. And if you need only one reason to get TBBoS it's this, SPIDER GOLEM! Tell me that doesn't give you an OSR chubby.

It's an interesting concept and I'd have to see it in play. A spinner could be the ultimate thief sub-class.

Part four is a short adventure where your goal is to DESTROY a spider cult. Again, the book you hold in your hand plays a big part in the adventure. Dylan sets up the situation, describes the rooms, but its up the GM to run it. No training wheels here. The maps are well done. Just a suggestion though, go the bathroom before you run the adventure or you might get a little paranoid sitting upon the porcelain throne.

And the final section is a few riddles that Dylan is so fond of. I'm even part of an answer to a riddle I got wrong. I suck at the riddles.

You get a lot of bang for your bucks in this offering. I am really surprised how much he squeezed in. If you want a print offering, you'll need to hop...or what ever spiders do...now I have to look it up...hydraulic pressure?...that doesn't sound right...hydraulic over to Dylan's blog, Digital Orc and you'll find the Paypal button ($4.99) beneath his video presentation. Or if you use a tablet, e-reader, or I'm to good for actual books kinda guy that will only read PDFs ($3.99) then head over to RPGNow and grab The Big Book of Spiders.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Big Book of Spiders
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Tombstones of Terror
by Jaren R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/23/2013 15:22:47
Just in time for Hallowe'en gaming goodness, Dylan Hartwell gives us a little adventure titled: Tombstones of Terror: Curse of the Sin Eater.

First: a disclaimer. I was an editor/proofreader on this project for Dylan. Thus, I want to make it clear: I have not received and will not receive any monetary remuneration for either my proofreading work or this review.

Now that's out of the way, let's get down to business.

We're looking at 32 pages of Labyrinth Lord goodness. (No worries to those who don't play LL; I regularly use Dylan's adventures in 3.x settings and they translate well.) As usual we have Dylan's unique artwork sprinkled throughout. I particularly like his grey-scale setting images and his critter pics. While the adventure is not graphic (it's not James Raggi grown-up stuff), it's not intended for the little ones. Definitely PG, or maybe PG-13, based on some of the thematic elements. This is not a critique or a complaint, just a warning to my more sensitive readers and the parents out there. As with most things: if you have a concern with your kids seeing something, take the time to look at it first rather than complaining later. YMMV.

The premise of the adventure is intriguing: the death of a village "sin eater" causes a curse to descend and sets the stage for some interdimensional doom and destruction. In order to lift the curse on the town, the adventurers must unlock riddles on seven different tombstones, each one a magical portal to a different and unique dungeon. Each dungeon has its own creatures and settings; each dungeon has its own boss. All seven dungeons must be overcome and each of the eight bosses Dylan gives us must be conquered in order to lift the curse. Yeah, I said eight. There's a final boss that must also be overcome to finalize the lifting of the curse.

As usual, Dylan gives us some interesting souls (literally in this case) to populate his world: lost sailors, grieving bards, and lustful priests. He also gives us some familiar monsters to battle, but adds in some new ones of his own. And yes, we have another spider. A wonderfully, gruesome spider. One that makes my skin crawl, and yet I cannot wait to unleash it on my own players. [I swear Dylan lies awake at night thinking up something new and creepy to do with spiders just so that the arachnaphobes among us can get the heebie-jeebies.]

Dylan also gives us seven new maps, one for each dungeon, plus a map for the cemetery. The text accompanying each dungeon is just detailed enough for most DMs: giving enough detail for some DMs to take it as written and run with it, while leaving room for other DMs to add/subtract details of their own. I think he strikes a good balance with the detail, myself. I will say this about the details, though: Dylan likes his Easter Eggs. He sprinkles little bits of continuity from his other adventures throughout. It's a nice nod to those of us who have/enjoy the other adventures, plus it gives an opportunity to expand from a quick adventure into a campaign.

If I had one complaint, it would be this: I want just a bit more. I'd like a bit more flavor about the town, a few more NPCs and townspeople with whom to interact. I realize I can do this myself, but sometimes I'm lazy. It certainly works well without the extra flavor and NPCs. I just think it would be even better. (But then, I collect NPCs, so I suppose it's not that difficult for me to pull a few out of the file drawer.)

Really, then, my one complaint comes down to pure, unadulterated selfishness.

I'm going to give this 4 battle-axes out of 5. I'd highly recommend it to anyone; as I said above, I think it could make a nice one- or two-night adventure for a group, or it could form the basis of an entire campaign. Great content, period. Currently it's available in PDF format, but he's also said he'd like for a print version to be available for those of us who want something physical to hold.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Tombstones of Terror
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Verloren The Rufescent and the Atramentous
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/19/2013 06:29:30
Where to start. Verloren is a city ripped from it's place in time, moved forward or backwards no one is truly sure. It is, effectively, an urban sandbox of sorts.

The map of the city is unlabeled, and in truth, probably not needed. The city is in the midst of moral decay. The hooks, and there are many, don't coincide to places on the maps - they are linked to personalities and events.

See, this isn't an adventure and to come to it with that expectation would leave the prospective DM frustrated. It's a series of hooks and story elements that can come together as a bigger picture, but the DM and the players are going to be the ones to put that together. It's a toolkit of sorts. A very disturbing toolkit at points.

Unless the DM is comfortable running game sessions from the seat of his pants, Verloren is going to need significant prep work, not the least of which is how the players react to the shift from normal city to one quickly decaying.

The big plot hook behind this all? Pretty interesting, and I'm not going to ruin the surprise.

Negatives? I already mentioned the virtually useless city map. As there really isn't much need for it (the DM may be well advised to possibly map out a very localized block or two for some of the hooks) being useless isn't so much a problem, but it would have been nice to have some locations / hooks labeled.

You need to watch the video to find out it's for adventurers 5-13 as it isn't spelled out at the RPGNow site.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Verloren The Rufescent and the Atramentous
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Menagerie of the Ice Lord
by Tim S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/25/2013 14:09:08
Menagerie of the Ice Lord (MotIL) is the fourth offering from Dylan Hartwell over at his Digital Orc blog. I've linked to the post where he does a video of what's included in MotIL. A lot. Sure you can buy the PDF, but once you see what you get with the print version I'm thinking you'll upgrade to it.

First off, I think this is the best one yet by Dylan. It's got a minimalist old school approach. In the first 19 pages he gives you info about the townsfolk of Nix and the precious crystals this adventure is built around. Also within those first 10 pages is a 100 room castle with maps. The descriptions are sparse and to the point. The maps are simple, easy to read and they look great.

The adventure itself makes sense. It has a purpose. And I always favor adventures where something has happened and the adventurers are investigating as much as exploring and whacking monsters.

Monsters! This adventure has its own Monster Manual in the back. Like S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. Thirty new monsters for your players to get their weapons dirty upon. All the monster appear somewhere in the adventure. Dylan provides a character sheet so if you want to tally all the monsters you've killed in the adventure you can tick it off. My barbarian/skull collecting side of me appreciates this.

Dylan does the writing, layout and did all the mapping and artwork. So like all his other projects it very much his own. And I think that's what I like best about his work.

I plan on using this adventure somewhere, sometime. There are adventures I read and I put aside for when I develop a gaming world or have a space in the world I am running I make sure a carve out a little space for it. The Menagerie of the Ice Lord will find a place in my gaming world. I can't give a product higher praise than that.

Price wise its only $2.99 for the PDF, but I am going to suggest that you go for the print version at $3.99. You get a lot of fun stuff in your envelope. And there is no extra cost for shipping to Europe and other parts of the known world.

Great work Dylan and keep those adventures coming.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Menagerie of the Ice Lord
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The Horrendous Heap of Sixteen Cities!
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/21/2012 10:16:37
There are your standard fantasy RPG settings and then you have settings like The Horrendous Heap of Sixteen Cities, which is anything but standard. There is no way my own words will do it justice, so I'll borrow Dylan's:

Extending above a haze of reeking steam rise sixteen peaks of garbage magically transported from sixteen different cities. It spreads, like an ever-growing fungus, across the landscape, encompassing and corrupting nearly fifty square miles. Hideous flies, crows, and vultures circle the piles, perpetually avoiding garbage falling from magical portals thousands of feet in the air. Giant rats, skunks, maggots, and other manner of repugnant beasts scuttle about the surface, surviving off the offal. Underneath, giant worms crawl through the debris. Periodic explosions reform the horizon. Some cultures call it “Sheoal”, others “Kol Katta”. All, however, use the common vernacular “The Heap”. And everywhere its name is synonymous with “Hell”.

As you can see, far from standard. Also, far from large. It is basically a micro-setting - an area to be placed within a larger setting. As such, and due to the fairly unique and special nature of the HHoSC!, this is something that you will probably need to plant seeds of knowledge fairly early in the campaign. PCs would have heard of something this unique, at least as a legend or rumor, so to spring it on your players out of the blue would be horribly unfair. Still, nothing will truly prepare them for experiencing the real thing.

The HHoSC! is very much a sandbox, even if its a small sandbox, and it provides the GM with a number of hooks to get the party to (and into) the HHoSC! It is appropriate for most levels, although low level characters will have to tread very carefully.

This isn't a plop and drop type of adventure, but if you prepare in advance, it should give your party a unique and fun experience.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Horrendous Heap of Sixteen Cities!
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The Blasphemous Brewery of Pilz!
by Aaron H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/31/2012 14:19:53
The Blasphemous Brewery of Pilz! is a wilderness and dungeon adventure for the Labyrinth Lord system suitable for characters from 3rd to 7th level. It is written as a standalone adventure, but provides enough material to morph the adventure into the seed for an entire campaign.

OVERALL

While the change of taste and price of a local mountain mushroom-based stout is concerning the locals, it is the disappearance of the Monks that brew it that has spurred the local authorities into action. As the characters delve into the mystery they will soon discovery that there is more going on behind the scenes than a coppery taste to a once loved brew. This 17 page long adventure is an interesting mix of subtle humor and dark doings that has enough intrigue to keep roleplayers engaged, while offering enough combat to satisfy the hack-and-slash in most gamers.

RATINGS

Publication Quality: 7 out of 10
This appears to be the first for sale adventure from Digital Orc and for a first product it is surprisingly well done. For me the best way to describe the art is quaint. I can see heavy influence from the 3rd edition Tome of Horrors from Necromancer. My favorite art was on the front “cover” that depicted the silhouette of a burpee brandishing a shield and what looks like a sword. I appreciate that the author/artist placed the art in the right places, it synched well with the text. The text and charts were well done and easy to read. This adventure lost most of its points due to the placement of creature statistics, tables and maps. Most of the maps are at the end of the adventure and the descriptions of the locations on the maps are in the beginning. Not a deal breaker, but attention to little details like these easily makes a small publisher seem much bigger. I do have to give a special shout out to the maps and the rumor chart. The maps are not the most beautiful I’ve seen but they are effective. I was happy to see a map of a mine that actually looked like a mine, not a labyrinth or a maze. The Shattenburg Rumor chart is elegant in its’ simplicity and usability.

Storyline: 9 out of 10
The Blasphemous Brewery of Pilz! actually has two or three storylines going at the same time and all of them are worth following. Dylan Hartwell has an interesting take on elves that breaks quite a few norms without being over-the-top. The happenings at the brewery are truly just the tip of the iceberg.

Desire to Play: 9 out of 10
Because of the sandbox nature of this adventure I can’t wait to insert The Blasphemous Brewery of Pliz! into the next fantasy game I run. I am interested to see how long the first part of this adventure plays out as it seems like it would be a great adventure for a Con. There is just enough information about the town of Shattenberg and the surrounding area to get the wheels in my sick little monkey mind moving.

Overall: 8 out of 10
At $2.99 USD this is a solid product that provides the tools to run a single session adventure or to lay a foundation for an ongoing campaign complete with a suitable base of operations, merchants guilds, angry elves and more. This adventure was well thought out, solidly designed and you can tell it was actually play tested; I am excited to run this adventure and to see just what Dylan Hartwell the Digital Orc has in store for us in the future.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Blasphemous Brewery of Pilz!
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The Blasphemous Brewery of Pilz!
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/20/2011 21:32:28
(review originally posted at tenkarstavern.com)

First, I'd like to thank Dylan Hartwell for supplying me with a review copy. Good stuff.

Now, on to the review - The Blasphemous Brewery of Pilz! (you had me at "brewery"... heh) is a Labyrinth Lord adventure for levels 3-7. It's a large level range to cover, especially at lower levels, where the power curve is a bit stronger then at higher levels, but in the hands of the right GM it should work.

The BBof P! is not just an adventure, but it's also is the bare bones of a sandbox setting of the area around the town of Shattenburg. At this point I think I need to mention something - run as written, Elven PCs need not apply. Alright, they may apply, but it should be downright uncomfortable for them. It's actually a nice twist to the usually vanilla fantasy setting - any elves the PCs encounter in town are likely to be servants, and fairly oppressed at that.

Anyhow, on to the rest of the book. In presentation and in atmosphere, it seems to me to be a very good fit for Tunnels & Trolls in addition to the usual listing of OSR RPG systems. It doesn't take itself too seriously, yet at the same time there is a dark side to much of it.

If there is a weakness to the adventure, its the hook. I actually missed it on my first read through, as it's actually on the front page as part of adventure recap / description. In any case, it's hard to get a pre-written hook that fits your party's needs in a published adventure, even when multiple ones are supplied. So, as weaknesses go, its a minor one.

If you are a GM that likes to tweak and twist published adventures into something that fits your style, the Blasphemous Brewery of Pilz! would be a good choice. If you want something that tries to cover all of your party's possible actions and totally in depth descriptions that you can read to your group, you'll probably find this lacking.

I'm a twist and tweaker myself ;)

(edit - forgot to mention the maps are works of art - detailed without being cluttered)

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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