Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Rashomon - Isle of the Plangent Mage

 


Isle of the Plangent Mage is an adventure written by Donn Stroud. It is illustrated by David Hoskins, with cartography by Glenn Seal, editing by Fiona Maeve Geist and Jarrett Crader, and layout by Anna Urbanek. It is written for Old School Essentials (OSE), a retro-clone of B/X or "Moldvay" D&D. The adventure is published by Gavin Norman's Necrotic Gnome in their novel house-style as part of a Kickstarter for the most recent printing of Advanced OSE. 

Five of us playtested this module over four 2.5 hour sessions with a party of five 3-4 level Old School Essentials (classic edition) characters whom we created for this purpose. Our group was:

*Ben (DM)

Eric (Jonra the magic-user)

Dan (Par the monkey man thief )

Ava (Rabta Swango the dwarf)

Qpop (Rumble the cleric)

Zedeck (Ball Bearing the halfling)

*In keeping with our stated policy, we note at the outset that Ben L has published one free adventure with Gavin Norman, The Submerged Spire of Sarpedon the Shaper, which appeared in From the Vats. This adventure is referenced in Isle of the Plangent Mage once. From time to time, Ben L has discussed the possibility of further collaborations with Norman's Old School Essentials line.

What follows is a "Rashomon" style review. Each member of the group will give their perspective on our game. Although we did discuss the module briefly after the final session, these opinions are our own. Spoilers aplenty follow, so if you might play in this module, you should probably stop reading now. 



Ben

Overview of the Module:

The Isle of the Plangent Mage begins with a two page overview of the locations and events of the module. It also discusses one starting vignette: the beaching of a pod of whales. It also gives some possible adventure hooks for visiting the module's dungeon. 

It next presents a small coastal sandbox, consisting of the village of Imbrich and Darksand Isle. The village is covered in three terse pages that discuss the not-quite-Innsmouth vibes of the villagers, outline a few personalities and local establishments, and presents a table of rumors. Darksand Isle gets a terse writeup of 6-7 pages, with several locations, including a pair of lighthouses (one inhabited by the ghost of Cetus' wife, the source of Cetus' plangency), an eerie idol risen from the sea, feral mutated teenagers, and hidden pirate treasure.  

But the bulk of the module is taken up with a single 47 room dungeon, the Undertower of Cetus the eponymous plangent mage. It is very recently abandoned and only starting to come to pieces. (The villagers do not know Cetus is missing, although they are perhaps beginning to suspect that something may have happened to him.) It is a submerged wizard's tower filled with Cetus' personal effects, force fields, mutated creatures, and sound-themed arcane contraptions. It is deadly, with a rapid random encounter clock.

Play Experience:

The hook I gave the party was that they were very short on funds and came to the coast looking for Cetus to sell him a remarkable musical artifact, a xylophone that played notes that could only be heard in the astral and ethereal planes. In need of cash, they were hoping that he would pay them a huge sum for this highly specialized device. 

In play, we spent one session in the sandbox focused almost entirely on the beaching of a pod of whales on the outskirts of Imbrich and the moral dilemma it presented after Rumble cast speak with animals and conversed with the terrified whale children of the pod. Attempts to deter the villagers from butchering the whale children failed, until Jonra cast charm person on one of their leaders. Although they were not able to save a pink whale who pleaded with them to just let him die--in fact the polymorphed form of Cetus himself, they did rescue the whale children. The party then used the charmed villager to help them recruit a hireling, commissioned a boat again with the sway of their charmed villager, and proceeded directly to Cetus's Undertower. 

We spent the following three sessions in the Undertower, exploring a little less than half of the dungeon in total. The adventure ended in catastrophe when the party, overwhelmed by the horrors of the Undertower, descended to the lowest level with the intention to slay Cetus. Instead, there they confronted the Night Trawler, a spiritual horror. 

Clearly overmatched, the animal cleric Rumble, trying to redeem himself for inadvertently luring a great shark to its own death earlier in the dungeon, ran through the darkness playing a music box to draw off the Night Trawler. This allowed the party to escape, but not before Rumble ran face first into a force field that sheared him in half. Along the way, Ball Bearing lost his voice, only to find it later, and Rabta may or may not have killed her hireling's husband (promises were made).

What Worked

As a DM, the module was a breeze to run owing to its information design. The Necrotic Gnome house style involves incredibly terse and utilitarian presentation of information. Each dungeon area has its own map printed on the page, and all important information is bolded and then nested below the description. Like this:




Furthermore, the important information is bolded at the top of the room entry and explained at greater length in bullet point style below. As a result, the module couldn't have been easier to run straight from the book. I read it through once. I then spent an hour prepping the first session, which mainly consisted of imagining a bit more fully what was going on in the village, and what the beaching of the whales would be like. In subsequent sessions all I did was briefly remind myself what was around the players in the dungeon, and consult the text to answer a few lingering questions about the dungeon. While there is a cost for the Necrotic Gnome house-style in a loss of evocative writing that conveys mood and theme, the gains in usability at the table are big.

We also used the high quality VTT maps that come with the electronic version of the module on Roll20, and this made dungeon crawling easy with fog of war, since the entire Undertower could be put on a single page and revealed as the party progressed through it, including across different levels. 

As a DM and reader of the module, although it didn't see much play with our group, I found the mystery sandbox that surrounded the dungeon an interesting twist on what would otherwise be tired cliches about "sea folk" and a wizard driven to distraction by lost love. 

The Undertower, however, is where the module shines. Stroud richly imagines it as a mysterious location full of arcane oddities and wonders connected to sound, mutation, and the sea. There were many moments of wonder intermingled with horror in our sessions. There are numerous toys to play with, sound-themed puzzles and curses, and the like in the dungeon. The Undertower also contains an artifact, the Resounding Assembly, with the possibility to transform a campaign in really interesting ways that couldn't be explored in our short play through. 

As a DM, my experience of the module was dominated by what I liked about it, but there are some issues that came out in running it that suggest room for improvement.

What Could Have Worked Better

Among the most important information about any location-based adventure like a sandbox or dungeon is what is going on with the factions that inhabit the location. Interacting with factions is probably the most fun part of play. For this purpose you need to know how the factions are disposed to react to the players, how they relate to other factions, and what generally speaking they want. In short, factions provide a lot of what makes anarchic location-based exploration fun. They also shape everything about what's happening in the space the players are exploring. For these reasons, the factions for a location need to be pulled to the front of the description and highlighted. 

The module does this well in some places and not so well in other places. The village is described well, but Darksand Isle and the Undertower much less so. I entirely missed the fact at first that the Undertower is inhabited by caretakers, which you have to infer from details of room entries and the encounter table. Who are they? Are they from the village?  Do the people in the village know about them? How much do the caretakers know about the Undertower? What do they want from the PCs? Also there are pirates on the encounter table! What is going on with them? Similarly, part of the tower is dominated by a mutated shark and its spawn, whom he sends out to collect further subjects for mutation. Is the mutated shark intelligent? Can you converse with it? Is this a faction or a just a big dumb monster? I had to make a ruling at the table and went with the big dumb B-movie monster alternative, because it seemed to fit the awesome illustration of a screaming tentacled shark monster by David Hoskins. 



This problem is exacerbated by the fact that most of these factions only appear on the very large encounter table. So there's also a substantial chance that the main groups you can actually talk to in the tower won't be encountered at all, as was true in our play. In an adventure that's primarily about exploring a space, it's better to locate the factions at least partly in space, and include at least some factions you can converse with in numbered locations. 

Now, I suspect part of the problem here was that the module was part of a kickstarter and had a set page number of 58 pages to which all the adventures had to conform. This is a very ambitious module for that page count. Perhaps the faction element was what ended up on the cutting room floor. If so, maybe it would have been better to shorten the dungeon in other ways.

Another thing that could perhaps have been a touch better concerns the "motive" for exploring the lower levels of the dungeon. Strangely, in what's set up as a mystery sandbox, a journal that tells you everything you need to know is in the first room room that the players are likely to walk into on the first floor of the Undertower. The very next room over has Cetus' spell book, another big ticket item. And, in fact, some of the biggest treasure hauls are right down the stairs from there. 

If you're going to have a vertical dungeon with levels that get nastier as you go down, you should probably put the big ticket items at the bottom. As it's written, I think the main reason to explore the lower levels is to turn on all the different parts of the Resounding Assembly. Perhaps the module would work best if they players choose to come to the Undertower to activate the Resounding Assembly for reasons of their own. 


Eric

The module had a good theme and good opening--the party spent the whole first session interacting with the whale butchers. But I think a lot of that came from Ben more than the module. 

A central elevator is a cool secret if you find it AFTER exploring a bunch of the dungeon conventionally: it lets the party skip a bunch of encounter checks re-travesing explored space. But as the main method of getting between levels, there's a kind of excess of choice--you get analysis paralysis and "let's check the next room for easy loot."

Button-pushing puzzles really call for illustrations. The ability to easily imagine things from descriptions is not a talent everyone has. 


Dan


I felt like the dungeon was most characterized by choice paralysis. Near immediate access to all floors via the main elevator, a colored button puzzle that took up most of a session. Combined with the implicit threat found in an oldschool dungeon, I kept feeling that I shouldn't interact with things--too many options, all of them horribly dangerous. 

Ava



I say this with absolutely no shade to Ben's skills as a Referee, and he ran a fantastic game, but I don't think the hook he provided us for this adventure quite worked.

The Undertower dungeon portion of the adventure, which is where we were more or less driven to by our narrative justification of having to meet with Cetus, suffers a problem that a lot of old LotFP modules and their imitators suffered from: its a horrible fucking place with not much reason to be there. Divorced from the traditional structure of a dungeon as Mythic Underworld which exists as a site for repeated expeditions to extract treasure, I was left with the sense of wandering around a pretty terrible haunted house with no real reason for being there. The lack of any conversant inhabitants in the dungeon did not help this fact. There's a lot of great interactivity, tons of puzzles and machines and gizmos and gadgets with levers to pull and knobs to turn, but with such an overall sense of danger permeating the space and no real option to safely retreat and return to engage on our terms, it was hard to want to really play with all these toys we were given.

Much of these problems are remedied by all the areas surrounding the Undertower, which we didn't get to play with. These provide short adventure sites where one can gather information, treasure, and magic items; NPCs you can talk to, who have goals and quests to give you; and clues which help you piece together the mysterey of the Isle and provide guidance for interacting with the many strange machines of the Undertower. Plangent Mage feels like its designed to be utilized as a mini-sandbox over a mid-to-long term campaign, and thats where its strengths would reveal themselves. Alternately, one could run the Undertower by explicitly leaning more into its "Negadungeon" aspects, though thats a term and style thats come into disfavour: doing so would likely require retooling the hook and trapping the players in the Undertower till they can find a means of escape.

 

qpop



Impressions as the player of a cleric that talked to the beached whales and got really sad / determined to help them. We thought that the pink whale might have been the plangent mage but did not find out until Ben told us at the end. If there are clues in the dungeon that we didn’t find, that’s great! If it’s just a hidden surprise, not as good. Related, there were definitely a lot of interesting things to investigate, just felt like we may have missed a lot of clues. It seemed like a lot of the information we could get was supposed to come out of the journal but stopping to read it in the dungeon seemed like a bad idea, although in the end we did. Were there other clue avenues? Definitely felt like we were stumbling around a bit, would have helped to have someone to talk to in the Undertower. 

I usually am more comfortable running much smaller environments and so was pleasantly surprised by the size of the dungeon, which felt like we were wandering around in a massive, but coherent, space. The weird shark mutant, the lever room, and all the trappings were really engaging. Hitting one of the levers and having a giant squid (octopus?) come floating up was an awesome moment. Doing the same thing but then screwing up and having the giant shark come flying into the chamber was another! High marks for environment and atmosphere.

Last point, this adventure needs a really compelling hook. The town seems overall very friendly, but there is no one to talk to inside the Undertower. The party will need a compelling reason to go inside in the first place, let alone keep exploring, beyond "What happened to Cetus?" Our group was trying to find the wizard to sell a fancy sound-based magic item, but the ambiguity about whether he was there or not started us off not wanting to steal / loot / disturb too much. 

Zedeck



Caveat: These notes are based on what we saw of the adventure -- which wasn’t much, admittedly. Impressions:


1. I liked the theme. The sea is always good, in that regard.

2. I didn’t like how complex the Undertower was. A personal preference thing -- but, I generally don’t love big dungeons that are literal dungeons. Felt like the stuff in it could’ve been spread out across the island, in coherent packets: the Mage’s household, a separate place from his laboratory, a separate place from the Resounding Assembly, etc.

Would’ve helped with variety; and also with answering the question that nagged our party throughout: “Okay, this place is scary, why are we going deeper?” Multiple shallow dungeons would feel less risky, and therefore mean players take more risks, even though the entire island is functionally a dungeon (just obscured).

3. I didn’t like all the unlabelled buttons. There were some buttons with different colours, I think? But these didn’t correspond to each other, for the most part? So there was a lot of random button-pressing, which didn’t feel like we were making interesting choices.

More signposting of what things did would’ve been welcome! Things like research papers would’ve made sense in various spots, like the Summoning Ambiance area -- “I tried reasoning with the merfolk, but they rebuffed me. Calibrate green frequency to induce soporific effect?” in a notebook on the lectern, etc.

Ben, Again


Listening to the players, perhaps we could say in a practical vein that you should consider running this module for its great mood and theme, high levels of interactivity, and good supporting sandbox. It's imaginativeness captivated most of us in play and led to some memorable moments. With a little work it could be a strong addition to your ongoing campaign or serve as a memorable standalone. But if you run it as a standalone learn from my mistake and ditch the mystery frame, instead using a hard frame about looting the tower or turning on the resounding assembly. Whether used as a one-shot or for an ongoing campaign, as the DM you may want to do some work on the factions before the party gets to the Undertower, deciding on their motivations, and locating some of them in keyed areas to help it come alive as less of a static negadungeon, and more as a living location with colorful NPCs with whom to interact. Prepare yourself for the fact that your players may experience some problems with choice paralysis and fatigue about choosing to play with Cetus' toys.

On a more theoretical level, we could say that the problems with the Undertower arise from the fact that the classic dungeon crawling is about the open-ended exploration of a space inhabited by factions. This is why what Justin Alexander called "Jaquaying a dungeon" after the work of legendary designer Jennell Jaquays is important. To "Jaquay" a dungeon is to design it in such a way that there are interesting and meaningful choices for players to make about which way to enter and how to navigate the space. It involves designing the dungeon with loops so that the players can make tactical choices or just stumble on things from multiple directions. In a multi-level dungeon it also involves designing several vertical connections, and ideally some secret paths to discover. This design uses space to short-circuits railroading by destroying the possibility of a planned sequence, and treats the dungeon as an open-ended spatial puzzle to be explored and used in anarchic fashion. 

The problems with this module, as excellent as it otherwise is, all arise from the failure to leverage space as a principle of design. Stroud puts an elevator right at the beginning that takes you clear through the dungeon with an otherwise linear stacked form, with obvious stairs as an alternate route. This is not Jaquaying a dungeon. It's simply saying, "there will be no puzzle of space here, go where you please", without any indication what might lie in any given direction. In this way, the up and down elevator buttons mirror the unlabelled buttons in the summoning chamber that troubled Zedeck. The general form of the dungeon is less an open-ended spatial exploration and more, "Do you want to press this button?" The problem of choice paralysis is a symptom of this deeper problem. 

Similarly with the location of information and treasure. Placing a lot of it at the top, when the bottom is so dangerous, removes another orienting feature about space, namely that if the players are experiencing greater peril in some quadrant of space, this is a clue that greater reward might be found there. Finally, leaving all encounters with (unfleshed out) factions to a random encounter table makes the dungeon denizens float free from the spatial design of the dungeon. Since the dungeon crawling is an open-ended spatial puzzle, you should locate at least some of the factions in keyed areas. This is how the social dimension of dungeon is integrated with the spatial dimension of dungeoncrawling. 







21 comments:

  1. Nice review - gives a lot to think about in terms of "how to run/should I run" I almost think the "great layout" is a signature thing of Gavin, and others should pay attention and incorporate this into module design.

    I didn't quite catch (and would appreciate in future reviews) the "feel" of the module. You mentioned a not-quite-Innsmouth, so is there a call of cthulu/horror vibe going on here?

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    1. This is a good point! I will try to include a description of the feel of the module in the reviews in my series, Ludic Dreams. What I would say here is that the village and Darksand Isle have a lighter mystery sandbox feel. Players will be tempted to infer that the residents are Innsmouth types, but they're not: they are lovable but cranky sea-touched villagers. There are also treasure burying pirates, and mysterious ancient idols from the deep. Tying it all together are two themes: (1) Cetus' "having disturbed nature through hubris" (think Miyazaki) and (2) a tragic romance that is responsible for Cetus' plangency. The Undertower changes gears. Here I would say (1) dominates. We have a hostile sea, irate spirits, undead and mutated creatures penetrating an abandoned wizard's tower that is full of sound-based magic and the schemes of a wizard who was definitely messing with some things best left alone. It's a very dangerous and wonder-filled place.

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    2. Thank you! So a "dark Miyazaki" vibe (Mononoke, Nausica) is somewhat in effect.

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  2. This was a great inaugural review! I really got a decent feel for each person's "voice" in their writing and it felt like a good collaboration. I don't recall too many reviews where the whole group participated and it is refreshing to see. It is nice to have the different perspectives from multiple sides of the table.

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  3. Got the module as part of the OSE kickstarter and read through it. Totally agree on it having a great theme that really carried it. The coloured buttons confused me somewhat as did the layout of the place - don't know if that was just me or if you would agree.

    Really informative review, if this blog continues like this I'm all here for it!

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    1. The dungeon is a complex structure for sure, and there are some bits where I was thinking, "what is this balcony overlooking?" for a hot minute, but the layout was pretty clear in play I thought.

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    2. That's good to know, I'll try running it and see for myself

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  4. Sounds like a good DM. Animal cleric or not, I hope you got those whale fuckers to cough up some loot in return for saving them. Tithing is a thing. "Ok boys, start hacking up that ambergris like you've got a four pack a day habit!"

    Hooks are an issue. Ultimately the appeal to the lowest common denominator is "Do you want to play D&D tonight or not? So swallow up." And, of course, it's always up to the players to find a reason to go down in the hole. But, you can't ignore the detrimental impact that this has on immersion, buy in, and motivation. Or, perhaps rather, from another framing, the very positive effects that a good hook can have on gameplay immersion, if we view "shitty hook" as the norm. This doesn't tend to be an issue in plot-based games ... since you've got a plot, or in one-shots, since they generally have some weird-ass hook to get the pre-gens involved, like in a con game. And in a traditional site-based game in a campaign this isn't an issue either, since the DM has had time to work the angles and perhaps even put the magical thingy on the last level. A multi-session site-based game though, as this was, seems to suffer the worst of all worlds, with no real hook to follow and no ongoing campaign to leverage for the larger motivational context. Can you blame a tournament adventure for being a tournament adventure or a site-based adventure for being a site-based adventure? Or, maybe, you can blame them for not doing a better job, especially if they DO offer a hook. In some cases, just not having one is better than having one.

    DM: "As you come out of the mists you see an old Victorian mansion in the ..."
    PC1: "I burn it down. We can sift the ashes for treasure. Screw you Ravenloft!"
    DM: "But it was a home for widows and orphans!"
    PC2: "Shit! We better use twice as much oil then, that place is a surefire deathtrap!"
    DM: "Do you wanna play D&D tonight or not?"
    PC's: "Fine, we go down in to the hole."

    Nice observations on the central elevator issue and toploading of treasure ... and diary.

    I think you also see some of the issues with AP as reviews. So much depends on the group on what the DM brings to the table. Valuable insights, but layers upon layers of new complexity to untangle in the evaluation and seperation of the experience from the product.

    You mention mostly in passing the wilderness. There was no chance of that bring forward the motivations which would have exploration of the tower, or deeper explorations of it, more meaningful? The amuse bouche to prepare for the main plate? In which case perhaps the designer could have done more to explicitly state that to the DM or channel the party that way?

    I'm rather fond of the NG house style, at least in concept, and prefer it over most of what gets used by default. There are a few products, I think, that both manage to use this shorthand style AND still be quite evocative. The key is less fact-based descriptions (exemplified by room 33's intro in your posted example) and, I think, less rigor in following the style at all costs. Rigor is good for learning something, but the step beyond is knowing when to use eskimo limericks.

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    1. I agree that separating what's the AG experience from the module itself is an interesting issue for reviews going forward. So much emerges in play that you don't see in reading it, but then the question looms, "How universal an experience did we just have?" In our game, I think a lot of player dissatisfaction came from something I, the DM, brought to the table: the original hook. Really this is a location based adventure that doesn't tell you how to use it. If I had just tweaked the hook I gave the players slightly to "sell this thing if you can find the guy, but otherwise LOOT THE TOWER", then I think it would have gone better overall. That's not the module's fault. So I tried not to focus on that in my opening or closing remarks, even though I think that DM slip loomed large in the players' experience during the game. To be clear, although we think play testing is ideal for reviews, we can't manage it so often, so most reviews will not be AG reviews. Your point is: "Is it really ideal?" I have to think more about that.

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    2. I missed it the first time reading through your substantive comment (and clicking to publish it), but "Eskimo" is not the current preferred term for any of the groups covered by that outdated word. I have no idea what the phrase as a whole means, google does not turn up any results on the combination of that word with limericks. But the general principle of this blog is to refer to individuals and groups in the way they would like us to refer to them.

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    3. Comments that deviate from this principle will not be published in the future.

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  5. Moderation?! Oh, I'm going to have fun with this! I can use it as my own private IM system! I wonder if I can insert a microdot?

    Hey, how's it going? Having a good night? Drink any good drinks lately? I snarfed a bottle of sake yesterday, not very good, it was a gift from my kid and I actually more prefer the unfiltered stuff. And, you know, sake ... but, hey, a proofs a proof.

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    1. Moderation is key. Learn to love the moderation.

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  6. Excellent review. I really like this approach. The relflections from all involved, GM + players, helps me work out ideas about running this adventure and others like it, but also perhaps how my players will take to it: the GM reflections are very useful but so also are the player comments. Looking forward to your next review.

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  7. I love this format, and I hope you use it a lot more in the future. Having all of these perspectives stacked so densely really gives you a feel for the thing.

    I'm really interested by the added context of the fixed 58 pages. Kind of revealing in terms of what an author prioritizes, and it would be interesting to see how other writers allocate that space (outside of the context of this kickstarter at least...I've never had a chance to dive into the OSE canon and it's very much a "at this point I'm too afraid to ask" kind of deal). Makes you wonder what potentially ended up on the cutting room floor.

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    1. It is interesting how a formal format/layout canalizes adventure design: how different authors respond to the same format, how it works for different styles of adventure (Plangent Mage's faction and combat centered dungeon vs. Palace of the Blood King's roleplay heavy vampire castle), and how design goals can conflict with this sort of formalism at the level of the entire adventure or even a single key. I don't believe that the 58 page limit is a format decision for all OSE adventures, just those produced through this Kickstarter, though it will be interesting to compare the three products and see how the format effects each. In general scope is a very difficult part of adventure design to pin down. It's easy to dream too big and end up with something unfocused, difficult to use or even incomplete (See B4 - Lost City), but also sometimes (See B11 King's Festival) to take too small an idea and expand on minutia to the point where its a chore to read or use.

      As a general note OSE products receive very positive reviews, popular enthusiasm, and from what I've seen are produced with a great deal of polish and professionalism (not surprising given the folks involved). I'm personally looking forward to see what else OSE puts out in the future, even if (as with every adventure) there are areas where I'd improve of do things differently.

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    2. I suppose I've always held off on OSE stuff just because it's tied to a specific system that I don't play, although I recognize that's silly and I'm sure they're broadly convertible. I'll have to take another look, thanks!

      At the risk of sounding sycophantic, that's something I've always really appreciated about your adventures - balancing scope and design goals and density of content is something I always struggle with, and I often look to your stuff for guidance.

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    3. It is good to have a vision to work towards, but you must also be willing to sacrifice that vision on the alter of pragmatism. We see, time and again, that fixed page counts can hinder an adventure. This is most notable in the one-pagers, but can extend to, it seems, the 58 page adventure. It's clear that sometimes there just be a few more pages.

      This can carry over in to all aspects, from writing to layout. Re: the trend to note lighting or door status for each room, and so on. You have to know when to(briefly) sacrifice your style guide for better results.

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    4. Thanks for the compliment Brent. I've been doing a bit of posting on the why and how of my design peculiarities over on my personal design blog, even a piece on One Page Dungeons and scope.

      With OSE the thing to remember is that it's Moldvay-Cook Basic/Expert dressed in a more contemporary and comfortable set of clothes, so anything published for it isn't just easily convertible its immediately playable with B/X, Lab Lord and all the other close B/X retroclones.

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    5. Bryce,

      I think page counts come from outside mostly - like "We've got a deal on printing 58 pages or less" (not that I can speak to the specifics of OSE's KS offerings), but even then I agree that knowing how to accept the scope that your page count can contain, or the number of elements and interactive bits one can fit in a key, is a necessary skill for an adventure writer. I know I tend toward baroque description and complex spaces in my keys, so I can't expect more then 2 a page. If I had a 58 page limit for an adventure there's no way I'm going over 60(or 45 more likely)keys for example, and that's just something I need to accept and build my design around. It's good even. Accepting limits is good.

      On formalism and layout, I also agree. Accepting limits might be good, and structured keys far better then meandering free association, but artificial limits can strangle the life out of a project.

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    6. If it makes you feel better, anything published for OSE is immediately playable with B/X, Basic Fantasy, Labyrinth Lord, LotFP, ACKS, BECMI, or pretty much any other retroclone with basically zero conversion work. The adventures are also more or less standalone (aka not part of some big Canon), though there is an optional connection between Hole in the Oak and Incandescent Grottoes.

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Ludic Dreams III - My Body is a Cage

At long last, I turn my Ludic Dreams series to what I probably should have been doing all along: reviewing games and adventures about dreams...