Wednesday, 12th September, 2012, 05:14 AM #1
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- Sep 2002
ø Ignore olshanski
review of The Bonegarden (by Necromancer Games 2004)
The Bonegarden (Necromancer Games 2004)
By Lance Hawvermale and Chad Coulter
AD&D 3.5 edition for 4 characters level 12-14
The Bonegarden is a small nation ruled by the dead, a circular cemetary 1 mile in diameter, surrounded by a magical containment field that keeps its denizens from spilling into the innocent world beyond. WIthin the gate lies one of the true blights of the Domain of Hawkmoon, an immense graveyard tht serves as the prison for the doomed spirits of thousands of history's most awful criminals. Those inside are determined to escape, and one of them may have found a way...
The adventure is 128 pages long, cover price of $21.99 American.
- 2 page of credits/legal/advertising
- 12 pages of adventure overview and plot development
- 53 pages of graveyard adventure
- 11 pages of adventure in a crashed ship
- 23 pages of adventure in an underground city
- 27 pages of new feats, spells, monsters, and items
Depending on how thoroughly your party explores or how mission oriented they are, some encounters will be bypassed. In my estimation, there are:
- Approximately 55 combat encounters*
- Approximately 26 roleplay or avoidable combat encounters
- Approximately 15 trap/trick encounters
- Approximately 20 environment encounters (things to examine)
An encounter where a collapsing bridge tumbles characters into a moat of zombies is counted as a trap/trick. An encounter where a prison guard must be defeated before communicating with the prisoners is counted as both a combat and a roleplay encounter. The "*" on combat encounters is because most defeated opponents return to full health every 24 hours, resulting in a potential for repeated combats. If there was even a slight chance that the characters could negotiate with an NPC, I counted it as a roleplay encounter (perhaps 10 of these 26 are far more likely to be combat than roleplay)
As the introductory blurb indicates, this adventure takes place in a cemetary and an underground city. There is a containment field that prevents any living creature from leaving, unless accompanied by a cleric in good-graces. No non-living creature can leave at all. Any undead creature killed within the graveyard returns to full health every night, even if "destroyed" by a cleric's turning. Any creature killed in the graveyard rises as an undead every night. Any summoned creatures obey the summoner for the duration of the spell, after which they cannot leave and are trapped within the graveyard.
The adventure is a true sandbox. It is a collection of locations, monsters, and NPCs, each with their own motives and desires. The adventure suggests several possible plot hooks for the players, but it is up to the GM to come up with the plot hook for their own playing group. Generally, the characters will need to poke around the graveyard to find a MacGuffin, during which time they'll get caught up in the many inter-connected plots of the many denizens of the Bonegarden.
Most of the adventure takes place in the surface cemetary and in the many outbuildings (ossuary, crematorium, etcetera). A much smaller portion of the adventure has a crashed ship that is being excavated by a crew of skeletons and zombies, the ship is currently occupied by vampires and vampire spawn. The final portion of the adventure describes an underground city with two warring factions. The underground city seems to have little contact with the surface.
The sandbox is very well designed. There are a lot of well detailed NPCs, each with motives and desires that connect them with other NPCs in the adventure. There are handy plot hooks for many of the encounters that assist the GM in tying the encounters together and giving characters reasons for seeking out other locations within the Boneyard. The relationships and motivations for the various NPCs are interesting and dramatic.
The concept of the prison of undead, with undead attempting to escape is very imaginative, and the various plots and schemes that the most ambitious NPCs have come up with are engaging.
The adventure requires the supplement "Tome of Horrors".
The adventure is very combat heavy, so much so that I suspect that it was not playtested, or at least not playtested by the book. Imagine that the first thing the party does is disturb a group of 12 stone giant skeletons near the entrance to the Boneyard. Even after the skeletons are defeated, every day those same 12 stone giant skeletons will be an obstacle to the party. There is a huge amount of combat encounters even without the potential for repeating combats.
Thee are a LOT of wandering monsters; if you go by-the-book, in any 24 hour period there are 36 wandering monster checks, each about 70% likely to result in a combat encounter. That is too many wandering monsters. There are numerous places where there are hordes of individual monsters, which would have been better served by simply using swarms, or else treating the hordes of monsters as a hazard. On page 15 there is an encounter with a combination of 200 ghouls, skeletons, and zombies. On page 20 there is a monster accompanied by 50 dire rats. On page 32 there is an encounter with 200 vipers. On page 67 there is an encounter with 50 vampire bats. I think these would be much easier to play using swarms of rats, vipers, bats, etcetera. There is no reason to have huge quantities of very low CR creatures, and the waste of time rolling dozens of saving throws, or attacks, or even logistically finding tokens or miniatures (if you are using miniatures)--this is exactly what swarms were made for. Huge quantities of low CR opponents is poor encounter design.
The book seems to suffer from a lack of editing; a crucial map of the underground city is missing, though it is available as a free download at the Necromancer games website Necromancer Games: Product Support. Another example is an encounter where the party must cross a magical minefield--every 5' traveled, there is a 25% chance that someone will step on a mine, if they do, there is a 50% chance that they'll jostle it, and if jostled, there is a 75% chance that the mine will explode. That is just clunky math. Instead of rolling 3 times, how about saying there is a 10% chance of a mine exploding for every 5' traveled, which gives roughly the same percentage but without the excessive rolling.
I don't give much weight to text density and cost per page... I'd rather pay a lot for a small clever mystery than pay a little for a huge repetitive monster bash.
I don't give much weight to new monsters, prestige classes, and magic items... they can add a little variety to an adventure, but to me they are minor decoration.
1. Interesting and varied encounters (I look for unique encounters, allowing for a variety of role and roll playing.): (3/5)
There is an excess of combat encounters, and the "return" of any defeated opponents means that a GM who runs the adventure "by the book" will be running some combats over and over again.
There are some widely uneven ELs for some encounters. The characters are expected to be 12th to 14th level, but many encounters are not at all level-appropriate. For example, before the party can investigate an artifact, they must first deal with a single CR4 witherweed. The adventure spends 26 lines of text (including a significant portion on "tactics"), for an absolutely insignificant threat. In another area there is a CR20 lich with a crystal ball that uses the "scry-and-fry" method of dealing with the party--waiting for a good moment, then showing up delivering power-word-kills against party wizards.
On the other hand, the developed NPCs have rich motivations and provide excellent opportunities for roleplaying and negotiation. Many of the adventure areas are very interesting and are overflowing with creepy atomsphere, for example, a giant "windmill of woe" whose blades turn without any breeze. There is a crematorium billowing with smoke, used as a fortress by a few living souls trying to hold back a nightly assault of wights. There is an inter-planar vehicle crash-landed and buried underground.The wide variety of crazy and creepy locations are outstanding.
My 3/5 rating for this category is a compromise between 1/5 for the returning combatants, the extreme number of wandering encounters, and the inappropriate ELs; while the incredible richness of the locations within the bonegarden is worth 5/5.
2. Motivations for monsters and NPCs (or some detail of how they interact with their environment or neighbors.): (5/5)
Many of the encounters are with unique NPCs, each with their own motivations and desires. The adventure expresses many of these motivations as "plot hooks" that tie the encounter to other encounters in the adventure. The vast majority of these "plot hooks" are motivations for the monsters that have needs that can only be met by interacting with other encounters. A lot of these motivations are revenge, some are greed, some need particular items or spells. Many encoutners "call forward" giving crucial advice about other more dangerous or perplexing areas of the Bonegarden. I think the strongest aspect of this adventure is the tangled web of connections between the many named NPCs throughout the adventure. The interconnected plot hooks found throughut the adventure are the best I've seen in any adventure. I am rating this category a 5/5 on the strength of the plot hooks.
3. Logical (the adventure should obey a sense of logic that clever players can use to their advantage): (2/5)
Since this adventure is a pure sandbox, it is harder to judge this category. The adventure doesn't have an over-arching plot or climax, other than whatever the GM comes up with, so there aren't any built-in hints about how a players can accomplish their goals. The adventure absolutely requires the players to be on their toes, looking for allies or seeking to negotiate with the more powerful NPCs, as many of them have information that other NPCs want.
Some of the undead NPCs, who cannot ever be killed, still seek to kill each other. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me, as I figure they would have learned their lesson and sought out other ways to thwart each other. But perhaps undead obey a different logic than the living. The underground city, in particular, doesn't seem to have a good reason for existing, and the denizens are engaged in a fued over a valueless substance. Its interesting, but signifys nothing.
The crashed spaceship buried in the cemetary is a bit gonzo, and I am willign to suspend my disbelief if it provides for good drama, but the spaceship is barely detailed. I used to think that the majority of the spaceship interior in the adventuer "Expedition to the Barrier Peaks" was sparse, but this spaceship has even less detail.
4. Writing Quality (foreshadowing, mystery, and descriptions that bring locations and NPCs to life): (3/5)
I've mentioned in other places the good use of plot hooks to create connections between different encounters. There are some surprising entertaining little bits scattered through the adventure. One of my favorites was a huge skeleton cobbled together by bone cobblers, but they took an innocent living prisoner and trapped her inside the ribcage of the skeleton. Any party that uses grossly damaging attacks to defeat the skeleton (like meteor swarm) is likely to kill the innocent prisoner trapped inside.
Another interesting encounter is with a woman that chooses to live her life submerged in a vast tank of water (surviving with a neclace of adaptation).
The last portion of the adventure is an underground city with two warring factions, sort of a fistfull of dollars scenario. The two sides are fighting over a marginally useful but evil substance "dreadium", that seems to be about as valuable as kerosine. The whole set-up is kind of hokey, and more importantly abandons the whole "trapped undead" theme. The many living creatures in the underground city don't seem to have a very good reason for even being there, especially considering the risk of getting trapped for eternity.
There is a fairly important fued between former friends (Karthe and Ristiko), and the adventure suggests some considerable rewards for breaking the fued, however there is abslutely no hint in the adventure about how the fued might end, and the principal parties are written as if their biggest drive is to eternally battle each other.
There is a great set-up with a dangerous family of former thieves, now ghosts (the Valders). There are many interesting backstories to the various family members. Unfortunately the encounter is written as a straight-up combat, with little in the way of plot hooks.
There are a few little gems here and there in the adventure. At one point the party might come across a vampire spawn sitting on a toilet, perhaps even reading a book. The vampire spawn isn't using the toilet out of necessity, just out of habit leftover from when it was alive.
5. Ease of GMing (Clear maps, friendly stat blocks, skill check numbers, player handouts and illustrations): (1/5)
On page 7 the adventure warns that "it should be evident by now that this adventure is intended for experienced DMs." That looks like an understatement. There are a lot of very powerful and motivated NPCs. Almost every undead creature that the party defeats will be looking for revenge the next day, and these monsters never go away. Keeping track of everything that is going on would be extremely challenging, requiring almost memorization of the majority of the book.
The book relies heavily upon the Tome of Horrors, perhaps 60% of the encounters use creatures from that book.
There are few maps and illustrations, and the maps are not the easiset to read. There is only one player handout and it is small and in-line with text. On page 60 the adventure refers to a player handout map, but I could not find it in the adventure.
On page 6 the adventure suggests "Read or paraphrase boxed and shaded text to your players", however there is no boxed or shaded text in the adventure. The long paragraphs of descriptive text at the top of each encounter are somewhat challenging to parse out. For example, starting at the bottom of page 27, there is a description of a round tomb circled by pillars, with unusal words carved into the door--but in the middle of the paragraph it reads "suddenly a dozen crows take flight in a flurry of black feathers and cries of protest." It is nice evocative text, but it is surrounded by the description of the tomb, and it is not easy to decide how much of the tomb description should be paraphrased and how much needs to wait for closer investigation by the PCs.
This is a grand sandbox adventure with wonderous and eerie locations, marred by an abundance of problems that render it unplayable by-the-book. A GM willing to invest considerable time could salvage a wonderful adventure from this framework.
If I were to use this adventure, I'd cut the frequencey of wandering monsters by 90%. I'd remove most of the combat encounters that involve nameless undead or plants. I'd carefully make sure that remaining combats would be playable, changing large quantities of monsters for swarms where appropriate. I'd also take advantage of the fact that the undead return every night, by having the encounters with intelligent NPCs start violently (the undead have nothing to lose), and then perhaps after any individual undead creature has been defeated it would stop to parley on the second encounter with the party. I'd make the CR20 lich a bit less bloodthirsty, so as not to automatically kill any PC spellcasters.
I would also play up some of the dogged persistance of the trapped beings... instead of an army of undead working on an excavation project, I'd have just a few of them toiling away... still having accomplished as much, but with lifetimes of work yet ahead of them. I would flesh out the buried spaceship, which is actually minimally described--as written it is not much more than a series of non-descript rooms occupied by wights and vampire spawn.
Finally, I would excise the underground city, which thematically has nothing to do with the surface Bonegarden, and I'd relocate the few interesting encounters and plot hooks from the underground city into the spaceship.
Before reading this adventure, I was a huge fan of Necromancer Games. I've run parties through Crucible of Freya, Tomb of Abyssthor, Vault of Larin Karr, Lost city of Barakus, Rappan Atthuk, Siege of Durgam's Folly, Demons and Devils, and Shades of Gray. The concept of a undead trapped in a graveyard was very appealing to me, but the execution was disappointing.
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Gallant (Lvl 3)
- Join Date
- Jan 2012
- United States
ø Ignore bryce0lynch
I just did my own review of this one. I thought _I_ was a tough reviewer.
by Lance Hawvermale and Rob Mason
for Necromancer Games
The Bonegarden is a small nation ruled by the dead, a circular cemetery 1 mile in diameter, surrounded by a magical containment field that keeps its denizens from spilling into the innocent world beyond. Within the gate lies one of the true blights of the Domain of Hawkmoon, an immense graveyard that serves as the prison for the doomed spirits of thousands of history’s most awful criminals. Those inside are determined to escape, and one of them may have found a way…
I wonder if there are any 3e adventurers that don’t suffer from verbal diarrhea? This adventure/setting is set in a giant graveyard and is full of factions, adventure seeds, and GREAT set ups. Unfortunately the adventure is buried under TONS of text.
Graveyard. One mile in diameter. Giant invisible one-way force field around it; you can get it but nothing inside can get out. It’s chock full of undead. Who come back to life each night if slain during the day. Just about everybody inside, living and dead, wants to get out and has a different plan for doing so. In most cases this puts them in contention with others inside the graveyard. Fun ensues. This more closely resembles a setting than it does an adventure. But it’s not generic or unimaginative the way many are. It instead is a kind of graveyard sandbox in which you can place something the players are seeking.
The graveyard has about seventeen locations scattered throughout. These can be roughly divided in to two categories: factions headquarters and weird stuff. The weird stuff is, essentially, a non-faction encounter area. The Windmill of Woe or the Hangman’s Tree or the Plague Bog … these are all nice little evocative locations. The Plague Bog is a low point in the graveyard where all of the blood, ooze, effluent, and other horrid substances collect. Quite a nice little fetid image there. Floating in it you can see a log with one arm hanging on to it, the rest under ‘water.’ Valley of Bones. Mass Graves. Revenge Lane. The Unquiet Garden. Just the names alone get my mind going and my creative juices flowing. (In to the plague bog, no doubt.) That’s EXACTLY what I’m looking for in an adventure. I need it to provide me just enough evocative information to get my mind going so I can do the rest. This product, however, does not do that. It goes completely overboard in the descriptions is provides. The locations all seem to take up at least a page each. What is was used for. Who lived thee. Who used it. What they did there. What happened to them. What’s happening now. The price of tea in china. The descriptions are just WAY too long. What ends up happening is that you can’t find the information you need/want in order to run it. Taking a ton of time and a highlighter to the text is going to be an absolute requirement. And then, of course, that’s combined with the absurd 3e stat blocks that take up even more room. What’s a shame is that the encounters are great and that greatness is communicated in just a couple of sentences in each. A skeleton warrior and a ghost are locked in eternal combat, each night the loser is resurrected to do battle once again the following night … these are great encounters!
The encounters are great but the factions are better. Without the factions you’d have some nice and interesting little encounters. With the factions you have a real place with people in it with their own goals and motivations … that are frequently at odds with each other. In to this volatile environment the party arrives. Human Drama Ensues. Errr… and Undead Drama. You’ve got various groups of human survivors holed up in a couple of locations; the remnants of other adventuring parties or expeditions. They just don’t want to die and want to get out of the graveyard. Then you’ve also got several factions of the intelligent undead. These range from undead thieves to lovers triangle to a lich. Each has their own supporters and agents and their own headquarters in the graveyard. They all want out and are all pursuing different methods to make it happen. They generally have at least one grudge against a different group. And then there’s the underground village/town. It has some people in it, miners, as well as a ton of underground types, like deep gnomes, drow, and the like. Besides the normal guys just trying to get by there are two factions trying to take over the town and a powerful do-gooder getting in everyones way. Everyones got agents and allies working for them, generally with THEIR own agendas. And it seems like everyone also has a boat load of prisoners each with THEIR own agendas and adventure seeds. I can’t emphasize it enough. I’m a very strong believer that the social element, the goals, motivations and interactions among the people, is what makes a good urban supplement. This place is like one of the best the best town supplements ever written.The party can hack, talk, negotiate, connive, plot, cross, double-cross and, most of all, try to survive in the face of the hordes of the unintelligent undead. I mean, if you can make it through the verbosity.
The maps are nearly throw away. They tend to be small and linear and don’t really provide much in the way of interest. It’s almost like they were an afterthought, or someone felt compelled to add them. It’s not clear to me how much value ANY map would add since the social aspects tend to not need as many detailed maps. Still, better and more interesting maps could have replace all the verbose dreck and allowed for some really interesting exploration elements which would have aded even more excitement to the adventure. It does have a decent number of new monsters (Undead, surprise, surprise, surprise!) and new magic items. These are both something I look for in an adventure. I like new monsters because they keep the party on its toes … they don’t know what to expect from a new creature. The ones in this module are pretty well done, playing on some nice horror tropes. The new magic items are nearly all new wondrous items, which again I prefer. I want magic to be mysterious and fresh. “Sword +1″ doesn’t do that but weird mass miscellaneous magic items do have that impact. I approve.
I’m really impressed by the number of adventure seeds and the degree of potential interaction among the creatures in this. I’d be hard pressed to name a supplement which does things better than this, and this isn’t even an supplement but an adventure module! This is a great little place to insert in to a campaign world, if very VERY deadly. It’s going to sound silly, but the only thing I found lacking, besides the verbosity, was the LACK of adventure seeds in the underground village. There are supposed to be some ‘normal’ people down there and some more information on them and their plight, with some seeds, would have been nice. It feels strange to say that in a module with so much in the way of adventure seeds. Perhaps the lack of seeds for the townspeople felt out of place because of the vast number contained in other places? In any event, if you can wade through the “paid by the word” nonsense then you would have a great higher-level supplement. A kind of Sigil for the undead.
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Magsman (Lvl 14)
- Join Date
- Jan 2003
- Elfrida, AZ
ø Ignore Treebore
I found the module pretty easy to run. I did change the encounter frequency to once per hour, no roll, it was going to happen, unless the party was, or did, do something to make themselves unable to be encountered, such as invisibility to undead, and I think I allowed Rope Trip to work too.
As for the monsters, I didn't like them being back the next day either, so I changed it to taking 7 days to come back. Plus it kind of creaped my players out when I would tell them how every time they went past a previous encounter area how the bones/pieces/parts were not in the same positions, or how burnt remians had bubble like things growing in them. Things meant to let them know these creatures were not gone for good, but also ended up making them feel "creeped out".
As for the lack of detail on the Spaceship, I do the same thing for this that I did for Barrier Peaks, I selected a ship from my Traveller library and used that map.
I own Tome of Horrors 1 to 3, so that wasn't an issue for me. Switching out monsters you don't have with monsters you do shouldn't be much of an issue, unless you own only one or two monster books. Then you will either have to write up your own, repeat monsters more often, or just have fewer over all encounters.
As for the Dreadium, I had it be like a potion of Heroism for undead creatures. It helped things in the under city make more sense for me. My group barely even dealt with it, so it didn't play a big role anyways.
Hope this helps make things a little easier for anyone who decides to give this module a try. I found it to be a great adventure and will use it again some day.
It is the spirit of the game, not the letter of the rules, which is important. NEVER hold to the letter written, nor allow some barracks room lawyer to force quotations from the rule book upon you, IF it goes against the obvious intent of the game. As you hew the line with respect to conformity to major systems and uniformity of play in general, also be certain the game is mastered by you and not by your players. Within the broad parameters give in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Volumes, YOU are creator and final arbiter. By ordering things as they should be, the game as a WHOLE first, your CAMPAIGN next, and your participants thereafter, you will be playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons as it was meant to be. May you find as much pleasure in so doing as the rest of us do.
-1E DMG, page 230
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