Roman Silver, Saxon Greed (2021)
Authentic Staple Rust Not Included
(in the DTRPG version)
by James & Robyn George
Olde House Rules
Low-level (Barons of Braunstein)
This adventure module is an odd beast: an attempt at a historically accurate dungeon crawl, presented as the sort of DIY product you might find distributed by Judges Guild, set in the most “points of light” setting you can imagine. This is fascinating, although it does not quite work.
The setting and context of the adventure place it in Saxon England, a few centuries after the Roman collapse. The empire has long fallen, and what we are left with is a grubby setting where what remains of the monetary system is copper-based, but people mostly use barter. Luxuries we take for granted (swords, ten foot poles, ubiquitous lantern oil, rope) are just that valuable rarities. Communities are small, and the wilderness is howling. This setting (also explored in the great Wolves of God, which might be used to run this adventure if you are not a dyed-in-the-wool BoB player) is built for adventurers!
What Roman Silver, Saxon Greed gives you is a dungeon in the buried cellars of an old Roman villa, a treasure map, and the description of Stânweall, a nearby village. Much of the introductory material – the setup – is conceptually interesting, but lacks the density of great, off-the-wall ideas which make early RPG materials so interesting. A lot is restating the obvious: perhaps the treasure map is found on a fallen traveller, recovered from a slain enemy, won in a game of dice, or even “anything else the Judge can think of”. This is the kind of material that does not get you a single step closer to actually running a good adventure with the booklet’s materials. A map of England is provided, without apparent added value (full page). A wilderness map shows nothing that could not be stated in a sentence, or which isn’t resolved by the half-page random encounter section covering the journey to the villa proper. The rumours chart is functional but generic – it is not something you would not improvise without prompting when the players started asking around in Stânweall (“Wolves prowl in the woods, and have become bolder”).
|Maps of Questionable Utility|
The adventure site – built around an authentic villa floor plan – is a 24-room dungeon. The intended tone is to make it a grimy, low-powered murder hole, and it is certainly realistic as the authors intended. However, this precise quality is what makes it a lot less interesting than a dungeon crawl. The villa basement is a relatively compact, cramped space without much in the way of doors (only one single room is blocked by one), where light and sound can travel freely. The brigands who lair down there, meanwhile, are alert and organised. This would in most cases result in a short stealth attempt followed by a siege situation, with more and more brigands emerging to join a mass fray. This promises a deadly fracas, followed (if victorious) by largely uneventful picking through the remains, as the dungeon becomes emptied of the inhabitants who make the place useful.
There is a reason OD&D’s dungeon doors restrict sight, noise, and above all movement through the Underworld, and this is it: you can enjoy every hand-crafted encounter on its merits, instead of getting rushed by the equivalent of 20 goblins. Roman Silver, Saxon Greed is that goblin encounter area, occupying a series of small rooms. There are prisoners, potential hiding places, side-passages with prowling beasts and potential allies. Most of it will not come into play, or come into play way too late to matter. The brigands are given interesting personalities (one is a former monk; another is a big man called “OXA” [the Ox] with a dog called “HUNDR” [dog]), and interesting situations – which would be useful if this wasn’t a scenario where you either have to fight, or stay very, very quiet to avoid fighting. The “feel” of the villa cellars are adept, and the slightly fantastic elements blend in well with the archaeology and the grubby dog-eat-dog shitfarmer milieu.
Roman Silver, Saxon Greed is an obvious labour of love. You can see that the cover has been scanned in with staples through the paper visible. It looks and feels like a lost 1970s relic. But as an adventure, it is bare-bones where it should be substantial, and its attempts at realism come at the cost of missed opportunities in gameplay. Perhaps more could be done in this area.
This publication credits its playtesters – a pleasant note!
Rating: ** / *****
That title is awesome! Too bad the module doesn't deliver as much.ReplyDelete
...or, instead, that the review assumes too much about how the scenario should be played as per every other dungeon via D&D rules instead as the reality of the scenario demands (and perhaps even the intended BoB rules operate).ReplyDelete
I am open to insight on this issue. What would be different?Delete
I'm not intimately familiar with BoB, but, I am familiar with tactical operations and how the scenario as described in the review would be a nightmare for most going into that sort of situation. OD&D's procedures can't be expected to be used for all scenarios, especially when created to 'buck' those assumptions; even moreso if created for another rules system.Delete
So, I think what is happening, based upon my reading of the review, is that the (explicit or even implicit) expectation that this scenario was being judged upon how well it would work with OD&D (or any of its other flavours) was not met.
Am I correct in my understanding, that the review is aimed at the scenario's utility for xD&D? Or, is the reviewer actually condemning the scenario on its own merits although the reviewer is applying D&Disms as the metric?
If the former, then the reviewer may want to make their expectation explicit in future evaluations.
-- If the latter, it is a cockeyed/unfair evaluation.
I did assume the game was OD&D-like in most respect: that is, very rules-light and reasonably deadly, rewarding player ingenuity instead of rules mastery. As I understand it, the original Braunstein games were pseudo-realistic environmental simulations built on a sense of what would be logical in a certain situation. My review took this assumption into account.Delete
My criticism, however, stems from issues which, I believe, are not D&D-specific; rather, they pertain to general scenario design, or are taken in the context of any simulation-oriented game.
1) The background parts are lackluster no matter how you slice them. They say very little in the space they have available to them (in fact, even less when we consider anyone who might reasonably be interested in the module would have at least a passing familiarity with post-Roman Britain). In contrast, one of the authors' previous adventures, Lair of the Shorlee Wyrm, has a very strongly realised, imaginative background.
2) My analysis of the scenario is based on simulation-oriented logic. The authors themselves stress the realism of the setup, and this is the yardstick I applied to it. Cramped spaces, sound propagation, light sources - these are things I do have some knowledge of (my other hobby is designing levels for a stealth game, where these aspects of simulation are core to the game experience). An idea of how a bunch of brigands may behave if they discovered they were attacked - here, I have a rough idea, too, although I am obviously not a brigand (I am, however, a Saxon). Together, this leads me to the conclusion that the brigands would probably discover even a careful partly, converge on them, and eliminate the threat as effectively as they could.
I did mention OD&D-style dungeon doors - heavy, large gate stuff - as something that does divide up dungeon space and compartmentalise action. This adventure is, to borrow another analogy, is a little bit like assaulting a cubicle office. You can be good, you can be silent, but sooner or later, Bob by the water cooler shall hear that gurgle as you stab his project manager.
Now I am even more confused. What exactly is it that you find fault with?Delete
If I may...Delete
He's saying that the way the scenario is setup, it will almost inevitably collapse into a single massive set-piece combat that will draw the inhabitants from all the rooms. And then the game is over.
The fault with this is... well it's not very interesting, is it?
The only thing I don't understand is how he kept his cool while interacting with you.Delete
Indeed, I was saying what Jiří has said more clearly. I do not think the module would realistically work the way its authors intended, and a lot of its good elements would be never actually discovered by the players.Delete
Have you contacted the authors, or they, you regarding these points?Delete
This is a REVIEW, not a co-operation for a new edition of the product. A reviewer's job does not involve contacting the authors of the work under review for clarifications. The reviewer's job is to examine the work as it is and describe its strengths and weaknesses.Delete
Really odd windmill to tilt at here. This isn't a hostile or even particularly negative review, and it's a helpful examination of a reasonably creative work that nonetheless seems to have some problems.Delete
I have long attempted to run a post-Roman Britain game of D&D with my home group. It should work perfectly, but somehow I could never get the tone quite right. I wonder.ReplyDelete
Have you seen the series, The Last Kingdom?Delete
--If so, does it capture what you are seeking?
The show Last Kingdom is a lot of fun, but I'm going to be the stereotype claim that the books by Bernard Cornwell were better.Delete
And if you want pagan Saxons on the cusp of converting to Christianity, the novel Hild is utterly fantastic. After reading it I wanted to design an RPG called "Oaths and Omens".
This comment has been removed by the author.ReplyDelete
Publisher here. The problem is real; but I’m not sure it’s the module’s responsibility. The judge must accurately describe the setting, which the players need to navigate carefully. The fact that its so-called dungeon is small and relatively confined isn’t a failure. It’s a feature. And a challenge. Once the players realize they can’t just storm the place, they’ll have to try something else. Moreover, Barons of Braunstein isn’t OD&D. Its combat and (especially) damage are very different. Add the LUCK mechanic, and things play out differently. Judging a module against a system it wasn’t designed for has its limits, and it’s fair to say that, although we appreciate the kind words and thoughtful discussion of what is undeniably the product’s central challenge…ReplyDelete
Thank you for weighing in! In the meantime, I have bought and studied Barons of Braunstein. While I stand by my review, I will agree that the Luck mechanic may change the dynamics of an otherwise very lethal system in ways I have not anticipated.Delete