Sunday, 5 November 2017

[REVIEW] Under Tenkar’s Tavern

Under Tenkar’s Tavern (2017)
by Thom Wilson
Published by Throwi Games

Memories of an Exalted Cover
There are always rats under the tavern. Editions come and go, gaming philosophies rise and fall, but those little fuckers are never giving it up. If your campaign starts in a tavern, you can bet there will be rats under it somewhere. So here we have this first-level adventure, and yeah right, the rats are at it again: they have dragged off the kitchen staff, and you have to follow them down into the rat dungeon to kill them. On your way down, there are captives to rescue, enough money to get rich, and a whole lot of rats. I’m not terribly surprised if that doesn’t sound very appealing. And yet, Under Tenkar’s is an adventure that almost gets it right, and that’s a very encouraging almost.

To start with, this 12-page module actually has a good content-to-page count ratio. It starts with a mercifully short one-page introduction (this could have been two longish paragraphs, but it is good enough), and follows it with a three-level mini-dungeon, featuring 37 keyed areas spread over 9 pages. A lot of small modules have a disappointingly minute amount of content (the proverbial 16 encounters in an 18-page package seems to describe most mini-module heartbreaks), or they are so minimalistic they strip out their meaningful content along with the dross. This one is just fine (and has room left over for “GM notes” if you want to add some). There is boxed text. Boxed text is usually bad news in gaming, a common warning sign for bloat or the removal of player agency. This time, it is mercifully short, functional, and mostly well written. The module could have done without it, but that’s splitting hairs: for boxed text, this is surprisingly passable.

The dungeon itself is a fairly simple beginners’ affair, following a linear structure with the odd side-branch here and there along the way. It is not bad. The encounters are mostly conventional dungeon fare, featuring living quarters, junk, and no less than three evil shrines of increasing menace. Lots of combat along the way, and a generous supply of low-profile magic items. The individual pieces are not outstanding, but it feels like a proper descent into an underground realm of dangers and mysteries. Evil idols, an underground lake, prisoners and cultists. Make this dungeon complex three or four times as big, add distractions and sidetracks, let the players get off the beaten track, explore and get lost, and it’d be very good indeed, while remaining a classic whack-a-rat deal.

Once again, as small, rat-based modules go, this one was surprisingly good for all the the low expectations. There are a lot of things which should work against it, but in the end, it is almost surprisingly decent, and has clawed its way up into a three-star rating. We are told there may be expansions, and there completely should – this is a good launching pad for something bigger – but it has to be bigger to really realise its potential.

No playtesters were listed for this adventure.

Rating: *** / *****

The Ratte Problem


  1. What is the point of reviewing material you don't find inspiring?

    Just because you have read some crap, assume that everything written by non-professional writers is crap, doesn't mean you have to bore everyone with your thoughts on why something is rubbish. D&D material is ASSUMED to be rubbish. Take a look at tenfootpole, interminable autistic appraisal. Just because you read shit doesn't mean you have to share it.

    My advice to all D&D reviewers is keep your mouth shut unless what you are reviewing is better than anything you could produce.

    1. So are all reviews positive in your world? Surely reviews should reflect the quality of the work?

      If a film review says something is bad, I'll be more likely to skip it.
      If a film review says something is good, I'll be more likely to watch it.
      This is the point of reviews. Telling me whether something is worth my time.

      What's the point of reviews otherwise? Self-congratulatory circle jerk forever?

    2. Although I would love to lambast Kent, I think what he said is more sinister:
      He assumes everything is shlocky crap UNLESS somebody posts a well-written positive review. The way he expressed that thought was, well, patrician, as Melan called it a while back.

    3. I write reviews for my and others' enjoyment, and will keep doing it as long as it pleases me.

      Now, there are some products I can't bring myself to touch - there is a certain kind of dull bad that's not even remotely interesting to write about. But flawed products which have a spark of something bigger hiding in them? Yes.

      This is one of those modules. It takes a cliché, and almost makes something good out of it. It'd probably work fine at a table (more on this in a minute). This tells me the author has a talent which could be brought to the fore. I will probably check out what else he has written.

  2. My advice to all who comment anywhere on the wide interwebs: please keep your mouth shut unless your comment is certified to achieve higher standards than the average level of comments anywhere.

    Seriously, reviewing bad products may help other customers to avoid shelling out money for the same, plus the aesthetic value of thrashing rubbish cannot be undervalued.

  3. I was perusing the 1e Adventures in Dungeon Mag the last few days...and took a look at tenfootpole's reviews after. I must say, from my own DMing, I usually seem to agree with bryce. But. Big BUT: I know some of the adventures [e. g. Age of Worms] that tenfootpole hates, but I experienced them as a player and found them spectacular! Curiously, when I got myself the adventures after finishing them, I tried to read them. I could not do it, so "badly" written. So, the reviews that are offered be Melan and Bryce have a lot of information value. Still there seems to be a certain portion of DMs who are inspired by lots of background text in the front. Who love the encounter set pieces and who are elevated to the sublime by boxed text. I cannot DM that way. But I sure as hell know that DMs who eat this stuff up exist, and as sure as hell many of them can deliver a D&D experience that leaves nothing to be desired. No solution to this conundrum, but in the meantime I'll go ahead and say there is many qualities a written module might have and that the 'recent' focus (Patrick S, zak, Melan, Bryce) on writing is not covering all bases.

    1. Certainly: the value of a game experience is about 50% module, 50% GM, and 50% players (yes, it goes up to 150%). This is obvious enough not to need putting it in a disclaimer.

      If you are even a moderately good GM, you can have a great experience with fairly crummy modules. When I was fourteen, the best we had was exactly the kind of Dungeon Magazine junk Bryce was reviewing, and the game sessions turned out memorable enough.

      But much of the enjoyment came not from running them faithfully, boxed text to boxed text, but by reading them, understanding about 80% of what the module meant (there was a language barrier), and using maybe 20-30% of the core ideas to run "an" adventure. Not exactly the author's, not exactly mine, but something vaguely connected to it.

      Today, it's easy to take any odd module and spin a good adventure out of it. And look at what Jeff Rients does with fairly everyday stuff - Jeff is really good! It is easy to repurpose, modify and just plain overwrite something. I could do it all day, and spin entire campaigns out of random bits and pieces found on blogs or RPGNow. That's the domain of the modules I usually rate at ***, and when I say three stars is "A good, functional product (or a flawed gem). Most old-school materials fall into this category.", I mean it.

      But there is competence and there is excellence. Four or five-star reviews are for things which I think represent something beyond competent. Something with an identity chich is all the author's, which is entirely original, or made with so much care that it flows very well. Of course, these supplements are very different in their writing and approach, and none of the rules apply perfectly. But that's also something that doesn't need to be put into a disclaimer.

  4. You are right, but I do think there is something else going on.
    Something about the presentation of ideas vs. how they play out. And something about different modes of inspiration and creativity.

    instead of cirticizing your review technique, I am just throwing the thought out there, that we are missing out on some of the unnamed qualities. What you, or bryce are doing is consistent. If we want to understand mainstream gameplay and experiences as well as the elusive vanilla, we might have to widen the perspective.

  5. Found it -

    Sounds pretty good for $1!