Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Adventure Site Contest: Review #3 Death Talon Lair

By: John Nash

Ruleset: B/X compatible

Recommended Levels: Level 3

The Gist: The reader isn't given a context for the location.  The title provides it is a lair, for "Death Talon", but until you get to the end of the piece you don't find out who or what Death Talon is.  

This piece highlights what I would consider the drawback of what has become known as the OSE style.  The DM is given staccato bursts of detail and no harmony between or connecting them.  DMs who never run anything close to what is written might not mind this; DMs interested in using 3PP material in order to import "not me" into their game worlds will need to infuse themselves back into the material in order to make it work.  If your players seize upon any of this detail, there's no 2nd layer for them to discover how or why unless you've provided it.  As written, it would essentially punish them for thinking it might matter because it's just wasting their time.

Spoiler - Death Talon is a young black dragon.  Almost certainly this lair wasn't constructed by the dragon, but taken over by it.  So what was it before he took it over?  There's undead, and coffins, and so was it some sort of tomb?  Perhaps.  OK, so if it was a tomb, why does half of it seem to portray a ruined trading outpost?  Good question.  Are the gnolls hanging out in one area lackeys of the dragon or are they just big balls gnolls who like to hang out near dragons they don't serve?  Insert GIF of "IDK kid" here.

Why do the undead vignettes seem to tie often into performative arts themes?  If they're protecting a former shrine to something named "Lumbricus - He who crawls beneath" those details aren't simply undefined, they're discordant.  

I would say that many of these individual pieces show something interesting, as individual pieces.  But I can't tell if that comes from the author, or some tables having a wide variety of possibilities.

Lastly, while we do enjoy dragon lairs and I commend the author for making one, a 5 HD dragon against a party of level 3 characters is a tough sell.  Unless the party can manage to do significant damage to it, its breath weapon should take out most of a 3rd level party in the first round - that's if they manage to avoid being level drained on the way there.

Monster Roster: The monster roster will present a variety of challenges - you have skeletons, zombies, wights, giant crabs, gnolls, a grey ooze, and green slime.  The roster itself is a good collection.

Treasure: 12,000 gp in monetary value, give or take, plus a couple of cursed magic items.  The gold is good but with the high level of challenge here for level 3 characters I'd recommend putting some magic in they can use to their benefit right away, as opposed to items that reduce their effectiveness.

Do I think this will work: Not really.  This is like pulling "BCFHUUV" from the bag in a game of scrabble.

Do I like it: Not as written.  I think any of the three or four themes present in this location could have been made into interesting coherent adventure sites if one had been chosen, though.

The map is also good. I'd likely use it differently, but as a widget necessary to adventuring, it is a good map.

Nitpicks:  Not enough here to nitpick really.  I would instead close with a thought exercise for the reader: surpluses of entirely incoherent detail given to another is worse than two or three details that play together; the latter helps another more, presents them with less overall work to finalize it, and is more likely to have them come back again if they need another piece of content.

But I would like to see something else from the author that feels like it is a fully realized expression of something Mr. Nash thinks is cool.

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