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TSR Example from the worst TSR adventure module(s) ever published


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pemerton

Legend
I also have to suggest the HPE series as among the worst adventures ever published. While H2 and P2 were at least decent, they were major contributors to 4e's poor reception and terrible showcases for the edition's strengths. They didn't even follow the DMG's own advice.
Bruce was already on my "beware" list because of Bastion of Broken Souls, and Heart of Nightfang Spire.

<snip>

Of the bunch I believe Demon Queen's Enclave is probably the best because it does assume that there will be serious roleplaying considerations rather than just combat assumptions

<snip>

These adventures are better used as lose frameworks to play. I have heavily adapted most of them at one point or another for use in my campaign.

Linearity, repetition, and just being plain boring is what stands out about most of them.
I've used H2, P2 and E1 (for some value of "used").

As I mentioned upthread, in H2 I used three of four encounter areas more-or-less modified. I never used the Horned Hold, and didn't use the Seven-Pillared Hall framing device at all, or the Mages of Saurun (sp?).

In P2 I kept some of the main antagonists, but just completely ignored most of the random exploration/fighty stuff (with two exceptions: the fight with spiders on the entry bridge, which was fun, and the mind flayer/goblin fight in the first tower across the bridge). The PCs ended up befriending the crazy drow wizard and the male fighting school (the latter were recruited as a backup artillery squad), and the rest was done in a handful of key encounters - the first portal in the building, the second portal in the town square, the temple, the building with the gate to the other plane, and the other-planar stronghold (the latter was one single encounter, from memory - maybe two - and I dropped all the exploration stuff en route to it).

From E1 I used the poster map for the inside of Mal Arundak when the PCs fought Miska there, and adapted some of it traps as well for the set-up for that room; adapted some other traps from it to be the entry way to Blibdoolpoolp's home when the PCs teleported there from the Shrine of the Kuo-toa; used the Blackstar monster stats as the framework for Torog's shrivers in his Soul Abattoir; and I think that's about it. So much filler in that module!

I enjoyed Bastion of Broken Souls (which I adapted to my Oriental Adventures Rolemaster campaign). I didn't use the final dungeon in the Positive Material Plane, but I used the basic premises (stolen souls, a banished god able to advise the PCs with the Soul Totem, the night hag Queen of Dreams, the slaad agent of Demogorgon). But every point where the module mandated a fight I just ignored - so the PCs allied with the exiled god, got into his prison plane by persuading the angel gate guardian to let them kill her, persuaded the night hag to share her secrets, etc. It was much more interesting that way!
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
I also have to suggest the HPE series as among the worst adventures ever published. While H2 and P2 were at least decent, they were major contributors to 4e's poor reception and terrible showcases for the edition's strengths. They didn't even follow the DMG's own advice.

I could not agree more. I frequently describe H1 as the best ad for Pathfinder that Paizo didn't have to pay for... and a number of times I have posted that, I have had immediate feedback from another poster on a range of boards that they decided to check out Pathfinder because WotC screwed the pooch so badly with H1. In a way, that's good otherwise they may have found H3 and decided to boycott WotC forever....

Each of them has to be looked at individually and assessed that way. All of them had some great ideas within, but were poorly executed, or not executed at all. Some of them have some of the most boring execution and linearity of all (Assault on Nightwyrm Fortress). After these adventures, I was so disappointed with Mike Mearls and Bruce Cordell, though Bruce was already on my "beware" list because of Bastion of Broken Souls, and Heart of Nightfang Spire. Which was really disappointing because Cordell was one of my favorite adventure writers with the Illithiad trilogy, and Sunless Citadel as part of his credits. (snip)

I have to agree. In the latter stages of 2E, Bruce Cordell's name on a product meant I had to buy it. Most of his stuff was so good (The Shattered Circle is one 2E adventure that is rarely mentioned but is simply brilliant, IMO). The Sunless Citadel was great, and then came the psionics adventure for Malhavoc Press which was utter garbage. I think that was the beginning of the end. That said, I am sure The Strange and Numenera suit him better as he seemed to always be more comfortable mixing genres, even in his novels (Stardeep has a Space Odyssey-like angry computer system, more or less). (And the less said about his novels the better. After all, naming your monk protagonist "Kane" is as bad as naming your wizard protagonist "Gandalf".)

(snip) Of the bunch I believe Demon Queen's Enclave is probably the best because it does assume that there will be serious roleplaying considerations rather than just combat assumptions, which is not surprising coming from Noonan and Sims.

These adventures are better used as lose frameworks to play. I have heavily adapted most of them at one point or another for use in my campaign.

Linearity, repetition, and just being plain boring is what stands out about most of them.

That last line sums those adventures up really well. I used to think they were so bad because the authors didn't grok 4E, but now I think they were just bad adventures regardless of the edition. 4E was rushed into production ahead of schedule; I suspect the adventures were too. It's a shame, though, because better adventures at the start would have, I strongly suspect, given 4E the popularity boost it needed. But driving people to Pathfinder with half-assed garbage? No wonder 4E failed.

Yep, I would agree whole-heartedly. Thunderspire, too, had a lot of potential for campaign play. Funny how those are tied together, too, isn't it?

Now if only the first adventures for 4e were more like Zeitgeist... :cool:

Yeah. 4e works better with fewer, but important and well designed, encounters. Much like ... well, Zeitgeist.

I think of the rest, H1, H3, and P1 are at least maybe salvageable. With work. H1 in particular starts out pretty well until you hit the actual Keep. P3 was a wreck. H3 needs some sort of civilization or town or something inside the pyramid and a better idea of what the bad guy is doing. P1 has a subtext of wildness vs. civilization that could have been better explored.

H1 needs a better dungeon, full stop. It's garbage. P3 is not worth trying to redeem. It would be better rewritten from scratch... as a completely different adventure. P1 is quite good and just needs a bit of tinkering around the edges. P3? Toss it on the scrap heap.

And forget everything about the Es except the basic ideas. They all need rewrites from people who are 1. good adventure designers and 2. grok 4E.

(snip) From E1 I used the poster map ... (snip)

Yep, the poster maps are rather useful. Me too. :)
 

Shoe

Explorer
I have a solution: Let's write our own encounters!

14. The Winter Wolf. As the party enters the clearing, they see a pile of apples. Read the description below:



The apples have no secret compartments. As the party approaches the apples, they hear a howl. A local winter wolf (AC 5; MV 18"; HD 5+1; hp 27 each; #AT 1; Dmg 1-8 [bite]; SA Surprise on 1-4, cold breath; SD immune to cold) has been collecting all the apples in the forest in order to lure prey to the clearing. If anyone takes an apple or gets too close or avoids the apples, the wolf leaps out of the pile and attacks. Roll 1d6 to determine surprise: 1-2: the party is surprised, 3-3, nobody is surprised, 3-5 the party is surprised, 6 the apples are surprised. The wolf once drank a potion of sleep, but is awake now because it is not near a pavilion. It will attempt to use its cold breath on anyone near the apples, or anyone not near the apples. After two rounds of combat wererats (AC 6; MV 12"; HD 3+1; hp 16 each; #AT 1; Dmg 1-8 [sword]; SA Surprise on 1-4; SD Hit only by silver or +1 or better magic weapons) will leap out of the secret door. Roll 1d6 for the sleep spells target.

After the party kills the wolf, they can take the apples and the golden statue of the dragon as well.

This is LITERALLY the funniest thing I have ever read in my life. Kudos to you sir.
 



Chris Danielson

First Post
Hmmm. Is this thread still active? Well, here goes . . .

As for worst modules (I never played anything beyond second edition), I remember Crystal Spheres from Spelljammer being really awful. The vampire planet, the system with one planet designated for each alignment, and also a vorpal sword as treasure, even though it was only an intermediate-level module, if I'm remembering it all correctly.
 


In the continuing adventures of the Forest Oracle . . . .

In the distance, the PCs hear the sounds of voices in the forest. When the party approaches they see two men, one clearly dressed as a fighter and the other as a rogue, having an argument.

The rogue [4 HD, 9 hp, -8 AC (leather), Attack +3 (dagger), dmg 1d4 + 1] waves his hands animatedly as he says, "I don't give a flying wererat's behind what you think, Bob, I'm going to use my bow in our next fight whether you like it or not!"

The fighter [4 HD, 16 hp, 9 AC (full plate) Attack +6 (short sword), dmg 1d6 + 3] shakes his head sadly and replies, "Then I guess you're doomed to be suboptimal forever, Pete."

If asked, Bob and Pete will reveal that they are acrobats---poor, lost, circus performers looking for a village nearby.

Through questioning Bob and Pete, the party may discover that they have a problem, which is that Pete cannot mathematically determine "his optimal DPR."

Three magical abacuses sit between the men, who ask the PCs if they are willing to help Pete out with his problem. If they can solve Pete's problem, the PCs can keep the abacuses and the pile of apples.

If the PCs refuse to help, Bob and Pete's T-Rex paladin friend [19 HD, 1 hp, -4 AC (natural), 1 Attack (bite) +15, Dmg 4d6] attacks from its hiding place in the woods. Roll surprise [1-2 the PCs are surprised, 2-4, Bob and Pete are surprised, 5-6, the forest is surprised]. When the paladin is reduced to less than 2 hit points but more than 0 hit points, it offers its flaming holy avenger +5 two-handed sword as a prize to the party.

"I really just wanted a katana anyway," the paladin states, as it shuffles off into the dungeon. "Come on, Bob and Pete!"
 
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Chris Danielson

First Post
I remember the Forest Oracle having Olot the Ogre,who was like 7 1/2 feet tall - I was always wondering about that, since ogres are usually nine feet tall or taller. I mean, he's like a midget ogre (not a dwarf ogre, since that will make people think he's a crossbreed or something).

Speaking of dwarves, the crazy one fighting the osquips under the mountain was a memorable part of the module, but it was only like two rooms then he dies in the cave-in. Really, a lot more could have been done with that.
 

JonnyP71

Explorer
It was filled with badly realised ideas and horrible writing. There's really nothing wrong with the premise of helping some Druids cure a blight on a land, but, but, but..... the wererats, the bandits (look out for the angry billy goat, it has no stats, you can't fight it, but it WILL butt you for 1d4), and THAT nymph... The High Druid also blesses the party members AND their swords, 'hang on, what about my axe?'. Plus that's a lot of treasure for one relatively puny Ogre who has somehow come into possession of a Flesh Golem?????

And then there's the location names:
The Downs
Quiet Lake
Greate Olde Woode
Wild River
Old Wilderness Road
New Wilderness Road

And what the hell is a Gyspy Camp? :p
Pah, I'm off for a Pint at the 'Happy Farmer'

It makes the choice of recycled artwork in I3-5 look inspired.
 

Chris Danielson

First Post
Ah, I forgot about the flesh golem (I'm recalling all this about the module from memory) - granted, it was not a full-strength one, but still, in a level 2-4 module? Also, can druids in 1st edition even cast a bless spell? If I recall, that was just a clerical spell.

The Downs - maybe they should change it to Downton Abbey for the remake, and that sage who starts you on this quest is Lord Grantham. Return to the Forest Oracle?

And the recycled artwork - speaking of the bad editing and lazy production values, I noticed that about the later 1st edition modules - like the post-1985 material. They used a lot of the same artwork in the modules, like the Desert of Desolation supermodule and Day of Al'Akbar and Egg of the Phoenix and others. I guess TSR was losing so much money then under Lorraine Williams that they couldn't afford to pay for new artwork.

In my opinion, the best stuff that came out of TSR in the 1980s, aside from the original Ravenloft, was the UK modules (expect for Beyond the Crystal Cave, which I recently played and was not really enthusiastic about).
 

JonnyP71

Explorer
The original artwork in I3, I4 and I5 individually was fine....

But for some reason the supermodule contained irrelevent pieces from C3 and L2 to name a couple of examples from memory. Why they changed it is anybody's guess, it certainly did not improve the product! Shame as it's a fantastic adventure.

My current group of 5E players have started playing 1E, and we've just done UK5, T1, UK2 and UK4, and are about to start UK3.... UK5 was fine, a little bland, but a gentle (and very attritional) start to 1E gaming. UK2 plays better than it reads, they were very lucky to get through alive - the Perytons caused absolute carnage. And UK4 has proved to be brutal. I had to handwave the usual 'week to recover from negative hitpoints', instead allowing them to recover to adventuring strength after a night being tended at Derwyth's cabin - otherwise it would have taken months in terms of game time - 1 PC died, another PC was down to -4 or worse no fewer than 4 times, with several others going negative on one or more occasions. They managed to completely avoid the Red Dragons by leaving their horses outside and then running when the Dragons snatched a few of the poor animals for food.

UK4 was great - but it does read a little better than it plays - they never really touched on a fair bit of the lovely background info.

And they've got UK3 next - heaven help them!
 

Chris Danielson

First Post
I guess that means they didn't get the treasure from the red dragons' cave?

I loved UK2 and UK3. But yea, UK2 had a lot of monsters that could only be hit by magic weapons. The whisps and the presence were really bad. I DMed a party through there that had only a magic mace and dagger, and the ranger used the mace without a proficiency. They were going to sell it for the money (this was the magic equipment from Treasure Hunt). I had to remind them that dumping a magic weapon when they didn't have any others to replace it wasn't a good idea.
 

JonnyP71

Explorer
(Mine sold a magical Spear after UK5 as nobody was proficient with it)

Having been taken apart by the Perytons (yep - only 2 magic weapons in the party - they succeeded by grounding one with a lasso and repeating stabbing it with a magic dagger), then having had a tough time against the Phantom and Ghouls, they met the Wisps and ran away... as only 4 of the party were still conscious at this point (the other 4 negative but stable). They made camp outside, and went foraging in the bushes for food as they had just run out of rations - I asked them precisely where they were looking and they picked out the specific area of bushes containing the secret entrance... so I rolled a d6 to see if they spotted the secret entrance (I decided an Elf had a 1 in 6 chance of seeing it) - it came up with a 1 and they stumbled on the back way in! Then through sheer luck they found the Skulk very quickly (via a few pits)... meaning they missed the Presence, Xvarts and Wererat. It was a bit of an anti-climax, but the way they were going, I doubt they would have been successful any other way.

Their problem - they started with 4E/5E and are still adjusting to the fact the hit points are a very precious commodity. They've also learned the hard way about selling magic weapons.

UK4 didn't go much better - 1 of them died in the Derro lair, the Spectator carved them to shreds when they tried to rush it, and the Borzog caused carnage. No they didn't get the dragons' treasure, nor the Gnomes' stash at the back of the lizard cave - they did ok out of the Derro lair, and Piyarz's coffer though.

So, um, where were we... The Forest Oracle, what a pile of ......
 

Chris Danielson

First Post
I've never played anything beyond 2nd edition. I had heard that they made it 'easier' in the later editions, so assuming that's true, I can see how first edition was a shock, when characters are expected to die.

You know anoter thing that bothered me about the Forest Oracle? When you get captured by the orcs (since they shoehorn you into that), if there are any elves in the party, then they should be killed immediately, according to the entry on orcs in the Monster Manual. Another thing Carl Smith didn't think about. But I guess the DM could have the orc in charge say that "they need to be kept alive so the chief has the honor of killing them when he returns" or something like that.
 


ccs

41st lv DM
Am I the only one hoping for a Forest Oracle AP, ala Curse of Strahd? :D

No, your not alone.

Yes, N2 is terribly written (and edited). But the basic premise of the adventure - things the PCs encounter on the way to & from the Druids - is sound. And there's just SOOO much there for a creative DM to build on....

Challenge: Pick an encounter in N2, any encounter. Keep the idea of it & use what's there (brigands, ogres, the 1/2lings inn, etc) but make it more interesting. Heck, make it relevant to your game.

Ex: The gypsies who cursed the town? In my game they're the Vistani from I6/I10/CoS. While transporting a piece of The Apparatus south to the Alchemist in Mordentshire they were set upon & robbed by a band of brigands & their ogre ally. Their lair is Castle Karn, (now relocated to a different hex westward of the mnts).
The surviving Vistani sought help from the town.
Well, being Vistani, their plea was soundly refused & they were driven away.....
And so they cursed the area & withdrew several miles away to wait - knowing that the town would summon our heroes (they are gypsy seers with a Taroka deck after all. :))
Enter the PCs. The town sends them to seek aid from the druids. They have assorted encounters en-route. The druids, being neutral in all things, recommend that the party visit the Vistani camp on the southern edge of the forest & discuss the matter with them. Several more encounters ensue trekking back across the mountains.
The Vistani are willing to lift their curse if the PCs recover what the brigands stole from them (chiefly the crate with the Apparatus part, not a pegasus).
The PCs do so, the Vistani lift the curse and depart the region, & the party is celebrated as heroes. Yay good guys!
The end. :)

Except....
Later on in their careers (re: when they're the right lvs) the characters will have some business down Mordentshire way & find themselves caught up in the combined nightmare of I6/I10 (wich is REALLY hard to run btw) that use of the Apparatus causes. :)


Or you can just run N2 exactly as written, bitch that it's a crappy module & mock it.
 

Chris Danielson

First Post
Ex: The gypsies who cursed the town? In my game they're the Vistani from I6/I10/CoS. While transporting a piece of The Apparatus south to the Alchemist in Mordentshire they were set upon & robbed by a band of brigands & their ogre ally. Their lair is Castle Karn, (now relocated to a different hex westward of the mnts).
The surviving Vistani sought help from the town.
Well, being Vistani, their plea was soundly refused & they were driven away.....
And so they cursed the area & withdrew several miles away to wait - knowing that the town would summon our heroes (they are gypsy seers with a Taroka deck after all. :))
Enter the PCs. The town sends them to seek aid from the druids. They have assorted encounters en-route. The druids, being neutral in all things, recommend that the party visit the Vistani camp on the southern edge of the forest & discuss the matter with them. Several more encounters ensue trekking back across the mountains.
The Vistani are willing to lift their curse if the PCs recover what the brigands stole from them (chiefly the crate with the Apparatus part, not a pegasus).
The PCs do so, the Vistani lift the curse and depart the region, & the party is celebrated as heroes. Yay good guys!
The end. :)

That's a great tie-in with Ravenloft. And a more accurate way in which the druids would have behaved.

Except....
Later on in their careers (re: when they're the right lvs) the characters will have some business down Mordentshire way & find themselves caught up in the combined nightmare of I6/I10 (wich is REALLY hard to run btw) that use of the Apparatus causes. :)


I DMed I10 a couple years ago with some friends, and you are right, it is a really hard adventure to run. Keeping track of the transpossessed, and real Strahd vs. dream Strahd . . . I'd had both Ravenloft modules since the 1980s and finally got to DM a campaign with them. Have to say we all liked the original one better, even if the party did killed and that became the transition to Mordentshire. Both still have a great atmosphere, though.
 

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