The Mad God’s Jest (2014)
Shane Ward (3 Toadstools Publishing)
After exhausting all of my bants in my previous review, let’s see if we can get through a couple of them without swearing. Highscore; 1.
I’m in a stage of blogging where I want to tackle some significant (or at least wildly popular) contemporary OSR products, tip some sacred cows, doggedly defend some sacred others and Mad God’s Jest, being a humble adventure, is very much not that. If anything can be said about it it is that it is serviceable but unexceptional.
The layout, formatting and description is kept to a bare minimum, utilitarian, but the essentials are conveyed for the most part. The premise feels like the type of game a GM comes up with if he has had 5 hours of sleep and 1 hour left to prep, exactly what you would come across in someone’s home game. Admittedly, it has a certain charm.
While camping in the wild the party get’s hijacked by Pirates. Captain Sherborne is in search for the ‘boots of a sex goddess’ rumored to lie hidden on some island. The actual agency behind him appears to be the titular Mad God in the form of a Harlequin, though this is kept ambiguous. Since his men refuse to enter the caverns because they think him mad (What kind of Pirate refuses to search for treasure? C’mon) the PCs are forced to accompany him instead. And it is all a dream.
Yup. It’s one of those. The whole adventure is actually a dream sent by the Mad God. That means no one gets to keep his treasure but if you die in the dream you die in real life. That means that the dungeon is filled with random stuff that makes no sense.
Some good concepts. The caverns proper are subdivided into Whimsey & Madness and are supposed to represent the Mad God’s mind, but the problem here is that the two sides have only a single connecting passageway. The second problem is that for some reason both caverns are inhabited by cultists which are kept under control by potions from an Elven Alchemist; a bizarre bit of verisimilitude in a place that is hellbent on defying logic. The rest of the map branches out fairly well and feels appropriately cavern-like, with a few secret doors to keep everyone happy.
As YRIS stated in a conversation a long time ago, if you are going to have your adventure revolve around random, unexplained event that make little sense, you should at least make sure the events are suitably distracting (paraphrased). Mad God’s Jest makes the attempt in dungeon design but its use of classic antagonists feels lazy in this context.
There is a single conceit to the dreamlike nature of the whole adventure. PCs who backtrack find the rooms they pass through undergo all sorts of cosmetic changes but they do not ultimately affect gameplay much, which is a bit of a shame.
A lot of rooms have some sort of theme going on (i.e torture chamber, hot tub party, Jungle) followed by a single inhabitant. There are no tactics and even the responses are not really described in all but a few cases, I suppose one just rolls encounter reaction and has at it. The rooms too could have done with some sort of environmental effect to beef them up. As it stands, there is a little weirdness like a pool with an unknown effect or a chest that says “snakes” on it. Do you open it?
Tables of random dialogue at least somewhat help evoke the sort of dreamlike vibe the adventure is trying to go for but the writing is clumsy. “At the bottom of the pit there is
something, what is it? I do not know. At the bottom of the pit!”
Monsters are a mixture of barely described cultists coupled with entries the MM (Hill giant, ahem Phase Tiger, Manticore, Dryads etc.). They are NOT beefed up with description or interesting tactics. Treasure is taken straight from the DMG and very high, presumably because the PCs don’t get to keep it anyway. Cultists carry potions that randomly raise or lower statts permanently (maybe this effect is permanent).
Pre-gens are helpfully provided in the back of the book, but are just a name and some statts, with nary a single line of description. The monsters needed WORK. It all feels too standard.
As a professional product I can’t recommend it. There are legions of adventures that make more of an effort, provide more original content, and do the surrealist stuff a lot better. Mad God’s Jest is, however, free.
Anyone looking for an average somewhat wacky evening of DnD could probably find some use out of it. It’s easy to run at any rate. I can’t get too worked up about it. It’s not a match for a professional or even a lot of amateur products, but it’s not horrible either. The dream stuff feels underutilized.
Unremarkable. 3 out of 10.