[Review] Shipwreckers (AD&D 3pp); Versimilitude where is thy sting?

Shipwreckers (1983)

S.Stone (Mayfair Games)
Lvl 4 – 7

Shipwrecker (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons / Role Aids): Sue Stone:  9780912771113: Amazon.com: Books

Part of an occupational hazard of reviewing adventures for the internet is that at some point you attain the elfgame equivalent of satori and you begin to get a sense of the cosmic pattern of adventure design, and individual entries start to blur together, becoming points on a graph rather then entries themselves. On the plus side this will make your reviews much shorter since you gain a better grasp of what makes any single entry distinctive. On the down side something of the wonder is lost, as you begin to see that those few gems that everyone talks about are floating on an ocean of mediocrity, forgotten, never to be remembered. Today we discuss mediocrity!

Shipwreckers by Susan Stone is an almost decent entry in what I like to ill-conceivedly call the Aidshawk category of Role Aids; adventures that have a feel and content similar to what you’d expect in Gary Gygax’s Greyhawk. On the zenith you will find adventures like Pinnacle and Deadly Power, on the nadir you will find Question of Gravity and this. It’s not terrible and I like the attempt at a more grounded setting but everything is very dull and the room descriptions are a bloated mess.

The premise is a good one, albeit it somewhat too long. Some years ago you had a bunch of pirates that were fucking around on an Island some way from Kingdom. The Royal Navy dealt with them and sank their galley, but they stole the Chalice of Storms that was to be the King’s Gift to the Patriarch of the Storm King. 500 gp per head and a big reward if you return the Chalice before the holy day.

So there’s a few things here that I like. The sample characters are designed to be used as henchmen if the PCs so desire and are placed strategically throughout the town of Wrighters so the PCs have a reason to explore the damn thing (since it takes up almost 1/3rd of the book). In addition, some NPCs have relationships with the townspeople, some have information about the whereabouts of the Pirate Caverns, others have grudges against either the Pirate Lord or the Goblins etc. etc. which might complicate other parts of the adventure.

The second thing is the town of Wrighters itself. There’s a verisimilitude to that I dig, even if it is a bit too long and some details, while they make sense, don’t really affect gameplay. Wrighters is reminiscent of a frontier town, with part of the town falling under the control of the ship-building company the town gets its name from, another part inhabited by the prospectors that have started to drift in from the mainland, and the townsfolk accounting for the other part. It’s a bit too mundane but there’s interesting details like the company part keeping to themselves (unless you think to hire a local boy to do the talking for you), a smugglers tunnel near the docks, a magic shop (bleeeeeegh) with another wizard in town holding a grudge against them, scam artists, taverns with sailor fights 75% of the time etc. etc. It’s not always directly gameable but there’s enough to make exploring the place worthwhile, and the odd rumors and encounters should help you along and make the place feel distinct. There’s a secret shrine to the Shipwrecker, a local Chaotic Evil naval deity, that doesn’t really have any gameable component to it but just seems to be added as a sort of flavor. Several entries are like this. A general store that sells Fake gold divining amulets that only work on a single bit of gold that the owner holds. Little ideas.

If the flavor had been beefed up a bit more and the word count sliced I think doing the entire adventure as more of a low level fantasy simulation would have worked. Unfortunately the realistic treatment is interrupted by ultra-gamey shit like the guards telling you shit like “Before setting out from Wrighters, your party should consider visiting the goblin caverns. Such a visit offers an excellent opportunity for you to learn to work together as a team, if you haven’t already. There’s also a slight chance that some of the goblin’s slaves may be captured pirates who would be willing to help and possibly even guide you to the pirate stronghold in exchange for their lives. There is even a chance that some of the goblins might be willing to help you themselves.”

Christus. Promising transition; you can decide for yourself whether you want to set out for the Goblin Caves, the Pirate Caves and whether you want to do this by land or by Sea. By sea has the advantage of flanking or even outright bypassing some of the defences the inhabitants might have but there’s a percentage chance of getting shipwrecked if you search certain areas which can mean instant death and how exactly you are meant to find some of these areas is not made abundantly clear. It is likely you will end up going to the Goblin Caves first. There’s something about not having the objective be immediately accessible and adding a hint of mystery that adds something to the charm of the adventure, it’s not bad even if 2% of finding the caverns per day of searching can go suck a big fat dick.

The Goblin Caverns proper offer a glimmer of hope by having multiple entrances and being interconnected. The Goblins proper have tactics, use paralytic poison darts, and more importantly, THERE’S A FUCKTONNE OF THEM. HUNDREDS OF GOBLINS. The same realistic treatment will describe, at length, various rooms with looted equipment, altar rooms, dressing rooms, barracks, cooking areas etc. etc. etc. The odd trap serves to spice things up a bit, but for the most part it’s generic and bland. It would have been alright if the textboxes weren’t some damn huge.

“Room 2 is a barracks for the remainder of the Goblins assigned to guard the entrance area of the cavern. Nine additional guards and two Clan Elders are assigned to this duty along with three additional Dire Wolves. The room is equipped with 15 pallets and numerous small boxes of equipment, armor polish, food, and the like. There is one large wooden barrel near the passage to room 7 which contains water, and four leather wine skins are hung on a hook next to the barrel (each holds approximately I liter of sour wine). Despite the clutter which is inescapable in any goblin dwelling, there seems to be fewer Goblins than would normally be expected from such a large area (the same will be true throughout this settlement). The caverns have obviously been used to support a larger population than they do at present. Each guard will have 1 D 10 c. p.; the Clan Elders each have 2D6 s.p.”

Sentences like Despite the clutter which is inescapable in any goblin dwelling, there seems to be fewer Goblins than would normally be expected from such a large area (the same will be true throughout this settlement). The caverns have obviously been used to support a larger population than they do at present.  should be tackled in the description of the caves proper, or actually not at all. Sometimes the game will throw a very strange curve ball by declaring that the Goblin Food room contains a FUCKING SHAMBLING MOUND?!? There’s a fucktonne of treasure, the goblins have one or two domesticated magical creatures alongside the assortment of Dire Wolves and cleverly placed Shriekers and pit traps. Chieftain is a Hobgoblin and his few remaining retainers. It’s not the worst Goblin Lair I’ve ever seen, there’s a possibility of finding some captives but they don’t get statts, even if one of them might be a pirate that can tell you where the caverns are but its pretty dry and there’s some strange leaps of logic in an otherwise stringently realistic place.

The Pirate Cavern proper is, if possible, worse. Again not for lack of trying. The idea is that the pirate village was burned down but the caverns were never found. Again you have multiple means of egress, the upper lair all but abandoned but peppered with alarms, illusions and traps and the lower levels a more or less realistic depiction of an underground pirate military base, complete with blacksmith, children, storerooms, kitchens, barracks etc. Compared to the Goblin lair it is also much less lethal, with a few fighters of 2-4 level the largest challenge, and a total of less then 20 pirates? The captain, Dred, uses illusion magic to turn into an old lady and try to trick his way out, chaotic evilly, which I respect, and his mate is also an illusionist and therefore a giant dick. The amount of scroll treasure is fucking ridiculous which stands out like a sore thumb and the Shambling Mound/Shriekers in a random room are textbook bullshit.

It’s not a complete disaster but the combination of generic depiction, focus on realism and mundanity coupled with the weird leaps in logic required to explain things like the Shambling mounds or the plethora of illusions make this one feel more hit then miss. It needed a little…more? More flavor, some unique magic items (an amber bracelet that allows you to dispel illusion 1/day is about as unique as we get here), some flavorful treasure, a memorable unique creature (there’s a stone bat that shoots lightning but it feels throwaway, nothing is built up).

Shipwreckers is not embarrassing or even terrible, but its very wordy and the adventure is rather too bland, even if the town of Wrighters is okay. If you write an adventure I think it helps if you ask yourself, “does this sound like something Faffhrd or Conan would do?” If the answer is no you have to spruce it up a bit. The pirates need a bit more color, maybe throw in an old temple or a weird artifact, maybe just a few memorable mundane enemies. I remember a John Carter novel where he is walking around in the complex of some of the Black Pirates? and he runs into an old man, who happens to be a Sword Master! Bam! You might not even need magic. A big guy in a suit of armor, a guy wearing a bandoleer of burning oil flasks, a guy with make-up hiding amid statues…a little oomph! OR you go B12 and you make it a tactical challenge and you describe their tactics in great detail, and set the map up for it with choke-points and vulnerabilities. This is just..meh.


Still typing my reviews in word. Jesus this interface.


2 thoughts on “[Review] Shipwreckers (AD&D 3pp); Versimilitude where is thy sting?

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