Saturday, April 9, 2016

Underport: Abyssal Descent Review

Bryce Lynch over at Ten-Foot-Pole, a blog dedicated to providing reviews of Old School Renaissance products was kind enough to review Underport: Abyssal Descent. Please check it out to see what you think.

Bryce wrote what I consider a very kind and fair analysis of the dungeon. If someone is on the fence about spending $5 for a copy at DriveThruRPG this could provide more of a sense how the scenario might meet your expectations.

Ten-Foot-Pole has been reviewing OSR gaming products going back to August 2011, approximately 49 months worth of reviewing somewhere between 5-10 modules each month. So Bryce has read tons of new gaming products which makes his thoughts pretty valuable in that I don't know of any other OSR gamer who has tackled such a volume to at least be able to compare what a lot of DIY OSR homebrew publishers are throwing out there on the RPG market in terms of style and playability.

One main conceit I have in dungeon design is that the game judge should have virtually every important bit of mechanics to run a particular encounter. As I discussed in a previous post (ha, coincidentally posted 3 days after Bryce's review), including monster stat blocks in OD&D or 1e/2e was relatively simple - maybe 2-4 lines of text or sometimes only 1 line!

With the 3e advent of skills monster stat blocks exploded.  

Knights of the All Mind supplement was intended to reduce the size of stat blocks (and player character sheets). In All Mind most of the modern (and open source) elements are retained, but in a hybrid fashion reverts to using class/race abilities or straight attribute checks to adjudicate things like picking locks, hiding, hearing noises, tracking, etc. from earlier editions of The World's Most Popular Role Playing Game.

Bryce and other present-day game designers have expressed to the contrary, just describe the encounter ommitting all the stat blocks. The game judge can just look up the necessary details in her bestiary. This also has an added advantage of making the encounter pretty much system-neutral.

Not to mention it makes it super easier on the writer because the focus is solely on the adventure. In the two years* it took me to transcribe Underport: Abyssal Descent from it's original version, probably two thirds of the work (or more) was used adding the stat blocks for different creatures that were translated into the All Mind format.
(*two years working very, very part time)

Of course, I am still left with my conceit. And maybe judges do have everything they need - because of the variety of game systems it's probably that each judge translates adventures into whatever rules and bestiaries that are being run at the time. Heavens to Murgatroyd, that's actually what I do running other folk's work.

Well, Metropolis of Evil will give me an opportunity to dance around with these philosophies...


  1. The general principal is, I think, the same: All parties are interested in the usability of the adventure. How much mechanics you can stuff in before it becomes "unusable" is, of course, subjective. I would assert that the consensus is that if it's more than a line or so then yank it an and put it in the back of the book, or all together in a reference sheet at the end.

    IE: your monster stat blocks can be 3/4 of a page long as it doesn't get in the way of the DM running the adventure.

  2. Thank you very much, Bryce. Nice to hear from you. Yes indeed and I was ruminating over what tends to force "thorough" stat blocks to run on & on (& on, other than skills) and that would be spell lists. Thought about days of yore and recalled how monster/NPC spells used to be reduced to "1-1-1-1-1-2-2-2-3-3-4" Brought back fond memories of cracking the PHB looking for the most damaging spell each level. The number of spells then are listed out to cross out as each spell slot as used.

    P.S. Ha, I actually wrote one of the eight adventures in "Habitition of the Stone Giant Lord" published book and the map from that scenario was used for the book's back cover.