Gone Fishin’ (2012)
Atherton (Beer & Barbarians)
Levels ??? (3-6 should be about right)
A tall tale about a talking fish sends a group of adventurers to a trek through the wilderlands bordering the realm of man. Meet interesting people and arrogant
knights. Maybe even catch a fish of two. Keep your lines tight and your socks dry. Or die trying
I took a break from the commercially available OSR and checked out this small woodland adventure from Dragonsfoot. A labour of love, made by enthusiasts and put online out of the kindness of their hearts. But as we all know love has nothing to do with Dungeons and Dragons, what counts is whether it is good or not. It is. It is very good.
Gone Fishin’ has a wonderfully simple faery-tale premise that it delivers on majestically, with nary a break or seam. A Giant Pike asks a brave warrior ‘what is best in life?’ and upon hearing his answer, fells him with a blow from its tail and drags him to the centre of the river to drown. The King has offered its weight in Silver to anyone who can bring the beast to him. A massive influx of adventurers, knights, nobles and malcontents sets out for Abbotsford to scour the river beyond the borders of the kingdom in search of this mysterious creature.
Oh man this thing rocks. The description of Abbotsford is kept simple but the descriptions sell it all. Overflowing with knights, pickpockets, fortune seekers and the like. People line the banks with fishing lines and boats scour the river. Random encounters can mean anything from a group of knights looking for a fight (the knights in this adventure are not Prince Charming but are mostly belligerent assholes, which only adds to the atmosphere of the piece), a drunken wizard or a band of street urchins. The atmosphere of chaos and excitement is clearly conveyed and beautiful.
76-80% A drunk dwarf insistently asks for directions to the Iron Hills, and then sits on
a doorstep crying maudlinly to himself regardless of the answer.
The rumor table is good but probably but is unlikely to be very helpful to the adventurers as they set out up the river in search of the famed Giant Pike, encountering bootleggers and dejected adventurers along the way! The random encounters do so much to sell the atmosphere of Gone Fishin; Halfling troupers, peddlers, drunk dwarves looking for halfling peddlers to lynch. There is a genuine sense of folksy joy to be found on the road that is conveyed pitch perfectly.
The adventure assumes adventurers will probably seek to travel along the river but provides random encounters (for both the civilized lands, the forest beyond the borders and the river) to generate sufficient gameplay if they stray from the beaten path.
Beyond the borders of the kingdom civilisation ends and you enter a place of faerytale whimsey. Leprechauns. Nixies. The Wee Folk! You see a red stag with 9 foot antlers, whaddya do! Creepy swamps with spiders. Two knights stranded on a tiny islet in the centre of the river while an old man on the shore watches with wry disapproval. A stretch of the forest is all dead and stripped of bark, do you proceed within?
11-20% A gigantic ogre (hp 24) returning from a raid on human lands lumps an
enormous sack jiggling with treasure. Inside the bag are the following items: a 3
legged upholstered chair, 2 sheep (live) and two clothes lines, complete with still
pegged male and female garments.
There is a character, motion and energy to all of the encounters that should be almost required reading. Everyone is doing something, the place feels alive and saturated with the forces of nature. Using naught but encounters from the good old MM, Atherton evokes a feeling of wonder and strangeness beyond the frontier. Where civilization ends, giant beaver dams, ancient pagan shrines and untamed nature holds sway. The difference between the civilized lands of the town and the forest beyond is nowhere better illustrated then by the descriptions of adventurers and fortune seekers that have fallen by the wayside and can no longer press on.
The penultimate confrontation is a thing of wonder. In the mist-shrouded Lake of Clouds, the Pike appears and asks you what is best in life? Will you answer correctly where others have failed? After you are victorious you get a curveball; the rebound NPC Party shows up! Fuck you buddy!
The module is not without its flaws. There is no way of learning the answer to the riddle along the way so unless you happen to sort of guess it it is likely you will have a pretty hard fight on your hands. There is an encounter with a lizardman village worshipping a strange lobster-ish abberation in the centre of a lake which I feel is misplaced because it jars thematically with the rest of the adventure. The advance of the wave of fortune seekers is not really kept track off, leaving the task in the hands of the GM. There is something of a timetable to help PCs proceed but I don’t think its possible for them to fail since nearly all their competitors give up at some point (which makes sense since it becomes increasingly dangerous). I don’t get the ranger reference and his scripted death is another anomaly that I suspect I don’t fully comprehend.
11-20% A family of otters dive joyously into the river. If the area in which they are
diving is inspected, then through the clear rushing water, a number of giant clams will
be seen. Opening the clams up will reveal huge pearls worth between 500-1000
sovereigns in total.
Whew, what else? The presentation could be a lot tighter but for a free amateur product I don’t actually begrudge it. It’s short length (17 pages) means it is easy to assimilate under all but the most batshit layout choices so in that department it is good. This is how you make a proper adventure.
There is a recipe of fish soup in the back that I am unsure about and will not comment any further on until I have verified it for myself but it seems pretty legit.
Pros: Fairy-Tale Vibe, excellent encounters, great premise, elegant prose, Proper Classic AD&D with Leprechauns, Knights, Talking Giant Beavers and the like.
Cons: No serious flaws.
Who would have guessed? A Free Lunch! Gone Fishin’ is a delightful lighthearted romp that represents classic DnD at its best. Come for the talking Fish, stay for the random encounters.
The link to it is down, but its likely still floating on the web somewhere. Definitely check it out if you come across it. 8.5 out of 10.