[Review] An Invitation from the Blue Baron (Blueholme); Too Many Cooks…

[Adventure]
An Invitation from the Blue Baron (2017)
Michel Thomas, James George, Matt Jackson, Thaumiel Nerub, Tim Shorts, James V. West, Dyson Logos, Shane Ward, Michael Wenman, Goblins Henchman, Steven A. Cook, Mike Evans & Venger As’Nas Satanis. (Collaborative Dungeon)
Edited by Shane Ward
Levels 1-3

An Invitation From The Blue Baron (A Collaborative Dungeon For ...

Disclaimer; Requested content. 

An Invitation from the Blue Baron is a collaborative dungeon adventure composed of 22 rooms written by different authors and herded together by Shane Ward, who manages to convey its great set-up in simple terms in the introduction (before expanding upon it later).

A powerful noble/wizard is hosting a masquerade ball where the guests are polymorphed into a monster as their costume, but an actual monster attends to kill the noble .

Who doesn’t love a good game of Clue DnD? I could immediately envision throwing this thing in Glantri. [1] Thematic compatibility with the thing you are retrocloning is an under-appreciated virtue. Unfortunately the rest of the module illustrates very well the shortcomings of the collaborative dungeon format.

A little more background. The Baron’s court wizard suspects the plot and hires the PCs, polymorphing them and offering them 50 gp as a reward if they slay the killer. The essential problem of how one goes about it is never discussed (with say, different guests or witnesses providing some clue as to the killers origin). This should, by all means, be a social adventure only it is written as a dungeon. The randomly generated nature of the killer increases replay-ability but makes any sort of planned careful investigation impossible and forces the GM to do the heavy lifting himself.

The first shortcoming of the adventure is in the execution of its premise. IftBB provides a randomly generated killer (chosen from several rooms in the dungeon) but doesn’t really provide the GM with any further aid in running the dungeon as a type of semi-investigation adventure, besides the suggestion of giving the players XP for interrogating guests. No method of divining the identity of the killer is provided, no time table is provided for the killer (one could have him, say, kill the wrong target first, after all, everyone has been polymorphed) to provide escalating tension, and about 75% of the dungeons where the party is supposedly located are traditional dungeon fare. Thus the premise is reduced to the pretense, and you are left with an overall schizophrenic feel.

Which is not to say the dungeon is without merit, far from it, some rooms are worth stealing at the very least.  The first thing I found immensely helpful was a d20 table for the generation of random monster guests, complete with single sentence descriptions of their personality and their background. The baron always invites all manner of weirdos to his extravagant balls, giving the whole an exotic, high magic feel that is reminiscent of Vance or Pratchett. There are colorful touches, like taverns where you can guzzle on enchanted ales, enchanted tattooists and a kitchen run by fat kobold wizard chef. You can rip out half of these and use the parts to beef up your dungeons. The rest you will leave to the vultures.

The dungeon map proper is similar to Dusty Door, a Rogue-esque series of box-shaped rooms with interconnected passageways, allowing for nonlinear exploration. The Brycean adage of loops! loops! loops! is adhered to with almost compulsive rigeur, rendering the whole eminently suitable for exploration. The schizophrenic room contents means the dungeon never coheres as a real place and is left feeling somewhat artificial.

The style, theme, format and content of each room is an incoherent mess that could have been averted by giving everyone clearer guidelines by which to hand in their submissions. Some rooms have descriptions of treasure in gold piece value, some do not. Some rooms are described with evocative brevity, others are meandering soliloquies to vainglorious dungeon excess. Occasionally rooms will refer to Nogaj (the wizard) and the Blue Baron but there is barely any opportunity for interaction. There is never a clear idea of whether the adventure expects you to solve a murder or rob the place dry, and one may as readily stumble into a green room filled with minstrels and card-playing goblins as a vast techno-arcane complex with lampreys in jars of fluid and a gargoyle with procedures for when the Baron is dead.

One of the more noteworthy entries is Number 5. The pantry of enchanted spices has been hammered shut with six iron spikes. The room is silent at first but as the PCs start wrenching them out they hear growling and gibbering emanate from the room. A band of Mogars, which are reminiscent of Squigs, bursts forth, along with a pungent, aromatic stench. Random enchanted herbs can be salvaged if the PCs survive, which they won’t. 9 1 HD monsters with 2d6 bite attacks, MV 50?!? and AC 6? They can leap up on eachother’s heads so they can make up to 6 attacks against a single PC? Did you have Sleep memorized when you opened this door? Then you have just killed yourselves.

There’s a few sins of adventure Writing with some of the submissions. At times the description of the dungeon will refer to the condition of the Hallway before it, meaning that the GM is likely to retroactively describe the hallways for lack of advance warning.
There are other offenders:

9. The Key to the Barony
“This room smells of brass and dust, the floor is littered with keys. All sizes and shapes of keys, some on key rings, and others are individual. Some are rusted and others are polished shining in the torch light.

When the players enter the room, the door won’t lock, the keys won’t float in mid-air, nothing exciting. Upon further inspection the heroes will notice that each key has a different name inscribed on it. Near the door on a bookshelf is a large tome.
Within the book is a map of a town and outlying areas. It details all of the dwellings, entrances, occupants and names. In the back of the book is a list of all the taxes owed in the local barony. One entry looks quite disturbing, it appears that Sir Adneynn owes an extremely large sum of gold to the barony. A promissory note is attached to the page, detailing the excitement of an upcoming joust and the promise of easy gold. ”

This might seem fine at first glance but allow me to point out just how poorly optimized this text is for actual play. The top description is supposedly meant to convey what the PCs notice at first glance, but the bookshelf is only described later in the italicized text. The first sentence of the italicized text describes only what does not happen and is redundant. The keys have names on them, of what? The inhabitants? We are left to puzzle out what the purpose of the room is and take away perhaps a minor hook for future adventure?

The rooms suffer from bloat, and it is easy to see why. With only a single room for submission, many an author will want to invest it with his creativity and showcase his talent to the dungeon-crawling proletariat. The result is a cacophony as each room seeks to outshine its sisters in cleverness and content. It is as though a play were written with no side-characters and instead had twenty-one main characters vying for the attention of the crowd.

There is some bullshit going on too with some of the encounters. Entry 10 forces the players to participate in a pit fight against a shadowy manifestation of their nightmares, an awesome concept, but the penalty for failure is permanent hit point loss. What the fuck dude? There is one that should be a simple wererat thief encounter that chooses to go into near encyclopedic detail about the Wererat Pc and his background. Occasionally the rooms are executed with restraint and are perfectly fine, if still a little on the wordy side.

It is of course trivially easy to pick out the Venger Satanis entry, which is 14, and involves a slime-covered room with all manner of tentacles that provides cryptic nonsense answers in response to queries. “They are slimy and cold to touch, yet soothing in a weird eldritch way.” Unmistakable.

There is good weird among the bad, I liked a room with enchanted tiles that magnified magical energies. A bizarre leprechaun creature that tries to hit on any of the elves and can be bargained with was alright too, as was the enchanted tavern and a room with a bunch of hobgoblin ladies playing cards amidst 9 cats. The flavor/interaction parts of the dungeon tend to work the best.

The derived average of the Treasure is decent the adventure deigns to give a gold piece value. Colorful objects d’arte intermixed with bland gold pieces with the odd magical item thrown in for good measure. The Observatory entry goes out of its way to add new magical spells in a tome that can only be read under moonlight (excellent!) and some of them are alright (shimmering clouds of stars defend against attack or a spell that grants darkvision and unerring direction sense by always revealing the star). “The contents of the book are strange ramblings of distant worlds and wars taking place far away, speaks of calamity befalling the world in the distant future, as foretold by the stars, and of great treasure in a nearby, ancient and forgotten kingdom that now rests under a snow-capped mountain.” Fuck yeah.

I was going to bitch about a spell to make ink from the distilled light of stars (awesome) that can only be read by moonlight (awesome) which is worth 500 gp but since the 5th level spell required to create it can only be done on a clear night during full moon and must not be interrupted for a full night I consider it fair, the substance would be incredibly rare either way.

An Invitation from the Blue Baron is a good concept crippled by twenty-one conflicting visions of its execution. It illustrates very well how important harmony, flow and coherence is to the design of a good dungeon. The few entries that exercise demure restraint are a welcome relief from the garish preening and clamorous entreaties of two dozen prima donnas. Toned down, edited for brevity and expanded to accommodate its murder mystery premise it should make for a solid, fun if still messy adventure.
As it is, its incoherent nature actually makes it very easy to strip for parts, to re-use in other dungeons. Definitely not worthless with some good creative entries but too much tinkering required to salvage it. 3.5 out of 10.

There is a sequel to the adventure. I am admittedly curious.

You can check out an Invitation from the Blue Baron here, for Free. My only regret is that the rooms have not been credited per author. IftBB also provides an interesting look at different writing styles and serves as a resource for all manner of OSR blogs, which is to its credit. I like the idea of collaborative projects, but I remain unconvinced the end result can ever flow as well as the vision of a singular author.

[1] The Wizard-led principalities on Mystara, Basic DnD’s awesome fantasy smorgasboard setting


13 thoughts on “[Review] An Invitation from the Blue Baron (Blueholme); Too Many Cooks…

  1. Thank you very much for the review. It was a fun project to create. I agree with a lot of what you are saying regarding “author’s trying to out do each other”. It was my first foray into a collab, and honestly it was a TON of fun to work with everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yeah, I could absolutely tell you guys had a great time, please don’t take my critical review of the end result as dissuasion for similar attempts in the future. I think I pinned down the problem, that a single room is too small a vessel for artistic expression and almost everyone is going to want to make their mark on the endeavor, making many of the rooms feel overwritten. I would absolutely recommend trying to unify the format for a future attempt, and maybe work with a strong editor with an authorial vision to keep the work a bit more coherent. Your second attempt looks better, I will be reviewing it soon.

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      1. I didn’t take it critical at all. As I say, all good points as far as I was concerned. As well I patted myself on the back on the occasions where you liked the rooms I wrote lol. Good catch on the Venger room. In the end though, it was a lot of fun, and I made some good friends. Unfortunately I don’t think I’d be able to figure out who wrote what room (other than me). It was an open google doc and people just picked rooms. I loved the fact that in the Mowgar room, James West (who wrote that one!) drew up some mowgars. Which is awesome. The other funny story that came from the collab was that the biggest room everyone was leaving alone for some reason. Dyson grabbed it. He basically wrote (i think room 13) “F**K Yah Big room baby”.

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      2. That Moglar room was something alright. I’m gonna try a few sessions of Basic soon to see where it goes so I might get some use out of some of these Blueholme adventures, I like how compatible they are to Mystara, which I always considered the setting by default for Basic. Thank you for clearing up some of the mystery behind the Invitation from the Blue Baron!

        I got a visceral feeling of enjoyment out of this thing, which is to your credit. I hope the next attempt will satisfy on a critical level.

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  2. I really love mystara. For me it’s basically what is contained in Isle Of Dread & the Expert rules. I have a copy of the karameiko’s gazateer, but I really think the world as it is without the gazateers is enough for me to run it the way I want. The one thing I really like about Blueholme (and Holmes) vs basic is the dex based init. Which is easy enough to do with basic. Certain things like all weapons doing d6 damage, and large weapons only being able to be used every other round are a pain. Ex a thief can wield 2 daggers doing 1d6 each every round, a big conan dude swinging a two handed sword does 1d6 damage every other round (if he hits).

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    1. Mystara is pretty rad. There was some shit later on but Allston did excellent work on Karameikos and Thyatia, and Glantri is the tits (easily my favorite wizard nation). When I read it I was amazed how colorful it was compared to Forgotten Realms, which comes across as dull by comparison, even if it was not without its stinkers (I cannot for the life of me figure out how anyone could find the Minrothad Guilds anything but dull).

      All weapons same damage is tossfiddle unless some other rule is composed to make it worth wielding a two-handed weapon. I never liked Duel-wielding in the old games either, it was always overpowered bullshit. The ACKs approach of just adding +1 to hit seems by far the best way of handling it (wasn’t that originally a suggestion by Malesewski?).

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      1. Malesewski – Quite possibly. If I remember correctly (not sure if its the minothrad guilds) but there’s some random islands to the east, one of which is basically “paradise island” (the tv show). that could have been Ierendi. Which is a bit weird. I’ve never read Glantri, sounds awesome though. As I said, just reading the descriptions in expert and isle of dread is enough of a setting for me. And kamareikos is great. Looking at the map, you can easily imagine Al Quadim in Ylaruam.

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