Monday 21 October 2019

Module Review: "Dead Man's Cove"

Continuing the reviews of the different modules from the Adventure I omnibus.
Contrarily to "Against the barrow king" and "Jerimond's orb", I do not recommend buying the version of this module included in Adventure I, since the "improvements" made to this module (art and maps) are actually inferior (in my opinion) as the one in the original release.
Backcover and cover of the original module in booster format, side by side


You might get severely spoiled by this review. Consider yourself warned!
“Spoilers are cowardly. They're just people who want to anesthetize themselves against the tension and the experience that the director and the artist have set up. If you go in there knowing what's going to happen, it's like reading the last page of the book. It's just cowardly.” ― Simon Pegg.
The same happens with playability and sense of wonder when you read a module review. You can never play that module again (but you could still have a go at DMing it, at least)

What is it and where is it to be found:

"Dead Man's Cove - Lvl 3-5 - by Ken Carpenter" is a module first published by AEG in 2001 for D&D3 in their "booster" format (narrow and cheap modules under 3$). It was reworked for D&D3.5 and integrated in the book "Adventure I".
Since the modules were reworked, and I own a print version of "Adventure I", this is the version I review here.
The module is also to be found on for less than a dollar (Original Dead Man's Cove module on drivethru), in it's original version, with the old art and maps.
There are some other reviews of the module there, which are interesting reads, but I find them way too enthusiastic.

Type of module:

This is mostly an hack'n'slash module. There is not a lot of space in this module for parley, although ruse might get you a long way towards an easier pirate slaying.
The "further adventures" section (only included in the re-worked version), at the end, brings up ideas for follow-up "missions" (that you'd have to develop yourself) that need not be only fight, though. I appreciate the effort...


The module is basically a pirate-ocide. You get the mission, you get there, then you have to get rid of the 30ish pirates in their base, handle the arrival of their ship as it was on a raid (reinforcements before you could get a long rest!) and a dungeon at the end to get to the pirate's booty. The cave where the booty is stored is interesting, though. I have not run the module (which means i'd need to convert it to 5E first), but since there are only 2 types of monsters (one of them being said pirates), it should be easy to convert.
The main difficulty to run this module, in my opinion, will be to make the piratocide challenging and enjoyable (I use piratocide here on purpose, because they are only described as sword'n'spell-fodder for the PCs to get XP and riches)

Motivation for the PCs to resolve the module:

The motivation presented in the module is straightforward: a merchant has been plundered a lot, found a map to the pirate's cove, want them dead, needs a team of exterminators. But as straightforward and cliché as it may be, it's still logical and the existence of the map, and the unwillingness of the patron to say where he got it from, allows room for more play after the adventure. So I think this opener is good. At least good enough and adaptable.


Apart from the maps and the cover, there are only 4 images in the "adventure I" version. The original module had 3, 2 of which are the same. But the "missing image" (not included in AdvI) is of the most interesting monster of the module! It is well described in the text and reminded me of an old magic card: the drowned.
Magic: The Gathering, including card images, the mana symbols, and Oracle text, is copyright Wizards of the Coast, LLC, a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc.
The art of "Dead Man's Cove" is not amazing, but since the maps are good, I don't think it penalizes the module either.
The cover is nice enough, and since it's pirate, it really has a connection to the module (this is not something you should be taken for granted).


I like the maps of the module. The computer-assisted redone maps in  Adventure I are surely readable, even if they lost the old school touch of the original module, that were readable too and had more charm, in my opinion.


Not sure there is anything you can call a twist in this module, but at least 2 nice surprises: the returning ship and the underwater monsters (the "drowned") in the cave.
The fact that not only the ships of the Mr-Johnson-merchant but also all but one of his competitors have been attacked and plundered is a nice touch, which will allow for the implementation of an over-story-arc.

My impressions:

I have mixed feelings about this module. There are a lot of good ideas, but the "main course", the fight against the pirates, is not dynamic enough. I agree that the module has certain qualities though:

  • It is very easy to plant it into an existing campaign (and into the world of D.R.E.A.D.) It's kind of plug'n'play, as soon as you have an harbor city and merchants
  • I like the fact that the pirate boat is supposed to come back within the night, so the characters can't get a long rest and need to act immediately
  • The merchant's intrigue running in the background and it's implications concerning the future of the story arc are easy to transform into a mini campaign
  • It contains an ad hoc system for the handling of the pirate sentries (and how much noise will wake up the pirates)
  • A part of the pirate's booty is nicely described

My grief with this module

This module shows great potential. Nothing in it is too caribbean, no reliance on black powder for any kind of scenaristic artifact, so it's also easy to bring it into a fantasy campaign.
The main encounter, though, is really terribly dull: it's just a bunch of sleeping pirates, easy to kill as long as they sleep, but much more dangerous if they wake up. But that's all. Nothing to discover that will allow players to investigate a bit and maybe recruit discontent pirates against the rest of the crew, no clue as to whom hates which other crew members. To be honest, only two pirates have a name (the captain and the guy in charge of the fires), that's emblematic of how much love pirates get in the module.
Additionally, I estimate that the treasures to be found / fought for in this module are too abundant. I would reduce it by a big factor of at least 10.

What would I do to run the module?

As I said, the pirate encounter needs a lot of reworking. My suggestion to make it better:

  • The pirate "village" needs to be revamped into smaller living quarters - More huts instead of one big sleeping dwelling
  • Those smaller units will allow for the creation of smaller cliques of pirates, which can then create clans. This is also in the interest of the cap'tain in a "divide and rule" (divide et impera) strategy to keep his bunch under control
  • This allows for a diversification of the pirates, their motives, their relationships, and methods to use this encounter as something else than just a big hack'n'slash scene.

What adaptations would I make to run this module in Perfu:

This module, like most of the modules from its omnibus, is very generic, and therefore easy to adapt to any coastal setting.
I would make minor changes to better fit the tone of D.R.E.A.D.:

  • The pirate village would need a shrine to Neptune
  • The names of the characters in the story would need to be romanicized
  • I would create a few other merchant houses, all rivals of the PCs' employers (one of them under devilish influence - the one that tries to destabilize the region, using the pirates as pawns while making their house rich)
  • All references to canons would be replaced with greek-fire-launching ballistas - the village would need a backyard alchemist's "laboratory" with crude oil (naphta) and burnt lime (quicklime/calcium oxyde) and the pirates would have to include someone able to brew that alchemist fire (proficiency with alchemist supplies should be enough to brew some greek fire - no professional alchemist needed here - quite surely a disciple of Vulcan, though)

How would I rate the module?

I'd give it 3 stars out of five (the low price tag is the reason it didn't get a 2-star rating).
It'd be just too much work to get it working for my style of play to give it a better rating. Still it has some good ideas, useable cartography, a good dungeon at the end (even if linear) and a very low price tag (but there are cheaper and better modules in the PWYW and free range on drivethru)

Would you recommend it?

No, I would not. I might actually run this module, once I have made the modifications described earlier, but this is similar to starting from scratch from a map found on the internet. But the merchant-house-intrigues with a touch of devilish influence trope is something that I would want to use.
I recommend buying "Adventure I" but not because of "Dead Man's Cove". It's just a nice bonus to other modules included in this compilation...
"Jerimond's Orb", for example, is one of the reasons why this compilation is definitely worth its 4$, as a pdf.


The drivethru-links included in this article are affiliate-links.
One day, I will have a few dollars credit on Drivethru and I'll re-buy an item on Pay What You Want (PWYW) I found very useful there. So somehow this is supporting indie creation, right?

Monday 14 October 2019

D.R.E.A.D. [Rant]: Bags of holding & Fantasy economy

Rant: Bags of holding are hampering my suspension of disbelief

Whispers of Oak Elvish pouch by Gwillieth / Aelin Laer original image

The bag of holding is an iconic part of D&D.
It’s really important to parties, because adventurers needs to be able to move a large sum of coins, which can amount to an uncarriable weight.
Assuming a 9g (0.32 oz) for a GP like in the Forgotten Realms, the weight of gold you’d need to carry around to buy a plate mail is around 15 kg of gold (33 pounds)…

The Good bag,

The bag of holding is a very good way to tackle the “apothecary accounting”-syndrom out of the character sheet and the game. Some kind of gameplay will insist on encumbrance and weight, but the less hardcore players will want to not take care of such trivial and boring details.
The players will also try to invent and use their magical objects in a non-intended way. This is part of the fun of roleplaying and adds magic to the game, so I'm delighted about such thinking.

The Bad bag,

The problem is not the bag in itself, but the players that want to push the limit always farther, and fill 62 cubic feet of water into storage in the bag, just in case. Soon they’ll build a contraption with automatic water filling the bag, bring that water 100m high, have the water power up a mill, and have another bag fill and repeat. I get it that magic can create an infinite movement that can be harnessed, but is it still a game of adventure?
So it’s important to keep in mind the limitations of the bag and to be extremely strict to players abusing the bag. Retrieving stuff from the astral plane can make for exciting adventures anyway…

,And the Ugly bag

My main problem with the bag of holding, is one of coherence.
D&D uses a dreamt middle-age as it’s background, with a lot of hierarchical structures borrowed from european feudal times. One aspect that is seldom taken into account (Eberron being the exception here - but Eberron is not medieval anyway), is that magic should normally have an influence on a lot of aspects of society. And it would have an enormous influence on the economy.
Town incomes in the middle ages were massively relying on taxes. Taxing wares at the town entrance was an important part of the financing of the “community” and the reason why wares from far away were so expensive was not only because of their scarcity and the danger that was inherent to move them. Taxes were a big chunk of the price of these wares.
Based on contemporary scientific studies, it’s recommended that horses should not be loaded with greater than 20% of their body weight. So a normal 545-kilogram (1200 pound) horse, then would be best off carrying no more than 109 kg (240 lbs) of tack and rider. A merchant could ride his horse and load it with 16 bags of holding and still be able to travel.
Do you see the need for a cart?
Declaring the wares would be funny too: I’d show my players how the town guards would turn the bags of holding inside out to empty them and then inventorize the content to calculate the taxes.
Smuggling would be on the rise, too. It’s much easier to smuggle wares in, if they are conveniently all fitting in a small bag or two… It does not have to be illegal wares, either. Evading taxation would already be a good deal enough to try to do it. Even bringing flour to a bakery would be interesting (one bag nearly completely full of flour would be around 900 kg / 1980 pounds of flour).
A combination of teleportation circle and bag of holding is a sure way to get rich, as a merchant (but wouldn’t it be a common merchant trick? Would that not mean a lot of transformation to society?).


I really love the bag of holding as a tool for adventurers, and at the same time I hate what the bag does to my suspension of disbelief.
One of the reasons for this hate is the fact that the bag of holding is an uncommon magic object. To avoid that the bag has such an influence on society and economics, it needs to be MUCH less available (I actually don’t want it to be banned)

What does it mean for D.R.E.A.D.?

It means that on the continent of Perfu, only a few bags of holdings are known to exist. I would rank up the rarity of the object to very rare (but not legendary) instead of uncommon, and put a price tag around 25.000 Gold to it.
The artificer class would not be allowed in this world anyway.

Your thoughts?

Do you have any comment on this rant?
Do you know of a particularly good use of the bag of holding, that I missed to refer to?
Did your party use this magical object very creatively and you want to share?

Well that’s what the comment section is for 😉

Wednesday 9 October 2019

Module Review: "Jerimond's Orb"

"Jerimond's Orb": a review 

considering compatibility with D.R.E.A.D.

Continuing to review the modules collected in Adventure I by AEG, we have a look today at "Jerimond's Orb - Lvl 2-4 - by Ree Soesbee"

The cover of the original module is so hideous that I prefer to include this Orb instead. I think the original art harmed this acutally quite nice module...

As with "Against the barrow king", I recommend buying the modules collected in Adventure I, since they have been improved. In this case, the original module did not include any map of the village or the tower/dungeon at the end of the adventure, which have been added to the collected version.


You might get severely spoiled by this review. Consider yourself warned!
“Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better but the frog dies in the process.” ― E.B. White.
The same happens with playability and sense of wonder when you dissect a module for a review.

What is it and where is it to be found:

"Jerimond's Orb - Lvl 2-4 - by Ree Soesbee" is a module first published by AEG in 2000 for D&D3 in their "booster" format (narrow and cheap modules under 3$). It was reworked for D&D3.5 and integrated in the book "Adventure I".
Since the modules were reworked, and I own a print version of "Adventure I", this is the version I review here.
The module is also to be found on for less than a dollar (original Jerimond's Orb module as a pdf on drivethru), but it's the original version, without the maps.
There are some other reviews of the module there, which are interesting reads (some reproaches do not apply to the "Adventure I"-version, though).


The module is basically a social challenge to understand what's going on, and a dungeon/fight to resolve the problem. The fight doesn't seem deadly, but I have not run the module (which means i'd need to convert it to 5E first).
Proactive and role-playing players should not have too much troubles to resolve the social part of the module, which is not too convoluted, but the clues are scattered all over the village inhabitants. There is also one red herring, not too obvious but still recognizable as such (hopefully before your players decide to strike up (or down) the herring).
I think it's not hard to run either, without even having to "fluff it out" - the module might not describe the irrelevant villagers, but they are not relevant, so grab up a random table and feel safe (p. 89 to 91 of your DMG, for example).

Type of module:

Mostly social module. The fight at the end could be resolved peacefully, too, if the players have gathered all infos and are not feeling bloodthirsty (I sometimes dream of having such players at my gaming table...)

Motivation for the PCs to resolve the module:

The motivation presented in the module is a small mystery: the characters were attacked while resting by a mathorn (a new monster form this module, akin to a watered-down but incontrolable werebeast).
Still, it's easy to find another motivation for the PCs: the village in the module was rich, but is not anymore - what would the liege or the tax collector of such a village do? Send the PCs to investigate, exactly!
I find it easy to introduce this module and implicate the PCs


I like the maps of the module. They are clear and easily readable. Neither charming nor lovely, but highly functional (computer generated but with a lot of effort and attention to detail).
My main critic is that the buildings in the village map are mostly aligned and not chaotically organised enough (as if the villages had settled a perfectly flat space and agreed on an urban development plan before building their homes).
I would have wished for a slightly bigger tower for Jerimond's home, too.
But these are really negligible details, I really like the cartography.


Apart from the maps and the cover, there is not a lot of art. Only an uglily drawn mathorn and an unnecessary bandit (maybe it's supposed to be be Cole or one of his acolytes? - there are not a lot of bandits in this module). The art is not amazing, but since the maps are good, not necessary either (text descriptions are good and vivid, on the other hand)
Considering the price of the module, I don't think it should penalize it more than the damage done by the original cover.


There are more than one twist in this module, not only a red herring, and one I didn't see coming, which is nice.
All twists and secrets are explained and justified in the story. They can all be discovered by the players.
In all, a nicely mastered aspect of this module.

My impressions:

I liked this module. There are certainly a lot of typical elements bordering on cliché here, but always with a pinch of salt that gives them a new savory flavor.

  • It is easy enough to introduce and integrate into an existing campaign (and into the world of D.R.E.A.D.) It's kind of plug'n'play
  • It is neither too directive nor too sandboxy. The reflection/action ratio is adequately balanced (to my taste)
  • It contains surprising elements which will probably gratifyingly entertain your group of players
  • The "bardic lore"-table can be used as a rumor mill to sow clues (and I think it ought to be one column earlier in the layout... details, details)
  • The module is very "roleplay"-oriented which is something I like

What would I change before running the module:

Apart from a few changes to fit D.R.E.A.D.'s setting (which are adaptations and not modifications, in my book), I would:

  • Modify the mathorns to be more like werewolves. They already have a likeness to them, so why not modify the stat blocks of werewolves, instead of creating mathorns?
  • I would make Jerimond's Orb an elvish or sylvan relic modified by the crazy old Jerimond, back in the days
  • I would develop a few other families (like a baker and a smith, and maybe a mayor) to fluff out the village
  • I would add a few stories to Jerimond's "tower" - I don't think a 1 story tall building deserves the name "tower" :)

What adaptations would I make to run this module in Perfu:

As said before, this module is very generic, and therefore highly adaptable to any rural setting. Still I would:

  • Exchange the church of St Cutallin to a pantheon temple dedicated to Aesculapius or Ceres (and make DuVall a priest of the chosen deity)
  • Create a connection between Cole Jenkins and an enemy factions of the PCs (or a criminal organisation like a thieve's guild)
  • Add long pointy ears to the statue of the deity on the common square - a mix of the tutelar deity of the village and an elf
  • Make the village's curse a peculiar form of lycanthropy - as werebeast can be an interesting source of alchemical ingredients
  • Change the monetary rewards or award "story XP" for the peaceful resolution of certain objectives of the module - maybe add an alchemical recipe to the treasures to be found at the end of the module.

How would I rate the module?

I'd give it 4.5 stars out of five (the low price tag is taken into consideration in this rating).
It would need a bit more art (like portraits of the main protagonists), a 5E conversion (Yes, i'm lazy) and an even better cartography to reach the 5 Stars.

Would you recommend it?

Yes, I would and I actually intend to run this module, once I start my campaign. And since I know this already, I could introduce some rumors and characters very early in the game.
I recommend buying "Adventure I" instead of the stand-alone, older, booster version.
I might be spoiling future blog posts here, but "Jerimond's Orb" is not the only good module in the "booster-omnibus", so it's definitely worth its 4$, as a pdf.


The drivethru-links included in this article are affiliate-links

Tuesday 8 October 2019

Module review: "Against the Barrow King"

"Against the Barrow King": a review 

considering compatibility with D.R.E.A.D.

No news from this blog for a while, I know... The creative process is ongoing, though, and the break is partly because I'm working on around 8 articles at the same time (world geography, cosmology and gods, races & civilisations, rules for Alchemy and for "Gold as XP").
At the same time, I read a lot of modules, adventures and scenarios, in search for background inspiration and modules fitting the setting.
So, in the meantime, why not review the modules I read?
Since this project is still in its infancy, I tend to use any material I find, even if it's not D&D5. And why not starting with material I already possess (which is more often than not for D&D3)?
First review: "Against the Barrow King"

Backcover and cover of the original module in booster format, side by side


You might get severely spoiled by this review. Consider yourself warned!

What is it and where do I find it?

"Against the Barrow King - Lvl 3-5 - by Steve Hough" is a module first published by AEG in 2000 for D&D3 in their "booster" format (narrow and cheap modules under 3$). It was reworked for D&D3.5 and integrated in the book "Adventure I".
Since I own Adventure I, this is the version I read and reviewed here.
The module is also to be found on for less than a dollar, but I don't know in which version (but the preview lets me think it's the original module for D&D3.0, without the newer map, which is much nicer looking).
There are some other reviews of the module there, but (spoilers) I kind of disagree with them.
Adventure I, the collection of the first 24 modules, is also available there for less than 4 $ (and that's where the nicer map can be found)


Apparently, the first version of the module was way too easy and was reworked to be tougher in Adventure I. Since I haven't (and won't) run the module, and would not do it in D&D3.5 anyway, I can't really comment on that.

Kind of Module:

Very classical and straightforward dungeon

Motivation for the PCs to resolve the module:

Classical to cliché: you enter the village, the elder explains the situation and asks you to resolve it for money.


The barrow king was brought to his final resting place in a burial mound, hence his name. This is not really relevant, since he lies in the only described mound of the 8, that are only present there for good mesure.
The inside architecture is sometimes described in read-aloud-texts, but are not really moving.
What about the other 7 mounds? Well, they not described, since their entrance is blocked... Why include them, then?


The barrow king isn't the main threat (but his ghost is still an antagonist, for no logical reason - neither one to be an antagonist nor to coexist peacefully with the other living beings in the mound), but a cult from a slaughter god.
If you could call that a real twist, i'd say it's a pretty bad one.


The relative lack of art does not really deserve this module. The 4 artworks included (cover, 1 monster, 1 map, and 1 magical object only included in the original stand-alone version of the module) range from good (for the map of the collected version - Adventure I) to nice but slightly out of topic (is it supposed to be the barrow king on the cover?) to useable (map in the original stand-alone version) and inspiring but not showable (the monster depiction is somehow inspiring). A picture of a magical object was included in the original module, but was probably deemed not nice enough to make it in the collected version (and it's not good art, so it doesn't really matter if it is not included in Adventure I)
To be blunt, the art is not the strongest side of the module.

My 2 cents:

As you might probably have guessed bynow from my tone, I'm quite disappointed by the quality of this module. I would not run it without such a reworking, that it would only be a cannibalization of the few good ideas of the module repacked in a nearly unrecognizeable other module.
Why that you should ask?
Well, to be direct:

  • the premise and introduction of the module are far too classical to be used unaltered (unless you have players coming for their first game evening - but then you have better module to introduce them to roleplaying games)
  • The cult has an overall motivation, but no member of it, or any other enemy, has a described motivation of its own
  • The module is build on a DMT-pattern (Door-Monster-Treasure). Some room are shortly described in an uninspired read-aloud-text, but no interaction between the rooms is described (apart from alarmed Orcs that were off duty, because of a creaking secret door), no alternatives to fight either.
  • The twist is unimpressive
  • There are ghouls in and around the mound that only attack if you wear the smell of a particuliar species of mushrooms that is present in one of the rooms of the dungeon - I would have found it much more interesting and logical the other way around (I suspect the author wanted the ghouls to only attack grave robbers with shrooms on their clothes, but there is no mention of this anywhere)
  • No room for real interaction or role-play or other challenges than monsters - no trap, no enigma, no way to make a less-combattant PC shine [a rogue for example]. As-written, this is strictly a hack'n'slash module. And that's my main rejection point, to be honest

By Jupiter, nothing to save there?

To be fair, there are only a few nice/cool things in this module to recycle:

  • The map is well drawn, clear and easy to read. Not sure I would picture a burial mound if I were to see it without prior knowledge, but it's not useless.
  • The cult created Frankensteined-constructs from the bodies they village-naped - these are worth recycling in a setting where alchemy plays an important role
  • As another reviewer on drivethru pointed out, the weapon of the cult leader/dungeon-end boss is nice and tainted. Add a way to relieve the weapon of its taint (through a quest of your own development) and it's really worth gaming with. You'd have to rework its mechanical side for 5E, but the basis is sound.
  • As yet another reviewer on drivethru pointed out, one of the village-naped peasant was bit by a ghoul and transformed while imprisonned. Nice idea to surprise your PCs with a ghoul attack when they think they are freeing an ally.

Would the module fit easily in the setting of D.R.E.A.D.?

The "booster" modules were made to be easily inserted in any setting, so yes, it would actually be easy to rebrand it for D.R.E.A.D. (that's positive, right?) or any other rural setting, for that matter.
You would have to change the tutelary god of the cult to the Androctasiae (female spirits of manslaughter) and probably make the main oppponents females and at least half of the lower cultists, too.
The cursed weapon would need a lvl 10 Cleric to be created with the rules of D&D3, but it'd needed rework anyway, therefore i don't think that it violates the level-cap rule of the setting (and it might have been forged by the Androctasiae themselves anyway - maybe in collaboration with Volcan/Volcanus himself?)

How would you rate the module?

I'd give it two stars out of five.
The fact that I could read it through and found things I would re-use is definitively worth more than one star.

Would you recommend it?

No, not really. Unless you want to convert Diablo Players to tabletop, have all figurines at home, and want a very classical Hack'n'slash-only module.
It would probably make a fun one-evening module for Levi Kornelsen's "8-Bit Dungeon: An Adventure Game of Funny-Shaped Dice", if used parodically, though...
I will review Adventure I once I have reviewed each module it contains, but as a pdf with 24 modules for less than 4$, what could go wrong?


The drivethru-links included in this article might be affiliate-links