In the Vine’s Eye (2015)
Jeff Sparks (Faster Monkey Games)
Lvl 4 – 6
Near the town of Rennington is said to be a mysterious valley. Rumors speak of great treasure, wine so good it drives people to obsession and a terrible curse on any who go into it. You are hired by a merchant to find his brother, who set out for it not long ago.
A later day effort from Sparks, who had a penchant for solid if work-manlike material, In the Vine’s Eye shakes it up by leaning heavily into D&D’s more mythic elements and relying more on negotiation then action to resolve the dispute. The result is fairly interesting.
The formatting is simple and less tight then I prefer, Headers and Paragraphs only. This, coupled with the adventure’s occasional refusal to provide concrete numbers (it will describe a Hive of Giant Killer Bees) or “a herd of goats” when selling the damn things is a primary source of monetary reward in an otherwise treasure-sparse scenario is an inconvenience, as is the lack of a price for a cutting of the vine. This is suprising coming from Sparks, who is usually more fastidious.
There’s an understated mythic vibe to the whole that serves as an antidote to the standard fantasy mishmash that is too often employed without self-awareness. The treasure in the Vine’s Eye is all naturalistic. Cuttings from a Cyclop’s Vineyard. Enchanted Wine (that will transform you into a giant goat). Honey from Giant Killer Bees. There’s a Cyclops (a non-degenerate Cyclops!) that will inflict any thieves with a terrible curse of thirst, only quenched when they sip of his enchanted wine! See here the fate of the Merchant’s Brother! Even decidedly anachronistic D&Disms like Robber Flies and
Displacer Beasts ahem Phase Tigers are thoughtfully integrated into the valley’s tiny ecosystem.
The module has its share of combat, particularly when the Characters attempt to steal something, but the major obstacle, the Cyclops proper, is really too strong to deal with directly, and too well equipped (with a scrying pool no less!) to outwit via base trickery. Negotiation is the only option, it turns out the Cyclops ALSO needs something!
This is where the adventure takes a tonal shift from cuddly Olympian Romp to Dante-ian pilgrimage into hell, where you must pass through the Scrying Pool and enter The Grove of Ash, and fight with the Devil that holds the souls of the Cyclops’s kin AND HE TAKES 11/12TH OF THE CYCLOPS’S WINE IN TRIBUTE. He can’t do it himself because of an ancient pact that his ancestors made, so now you have to murder the shit out of him. He’s pretty tough but COULD be outfought directly, though here also Sparks includes options for negotiation. There’s a visiting Rakshasa that actually hates the Devil enough to be willing to help the heroes if they don’t immediately start threatening him. ‘His whole manner exudes confidence and power. In combat Choshvar parries nonmagical attacks contemptuously with his cigarette holder.’ Nice detail. Charming. I can also see scenarios where the players locate the gemstone that holds the bloodpact in the Devil’s throne and smash that, or find a way to sabotage the jars that hold the Cyclops’s ancestors. There’s environmental features that can be fucked with too, I like it, it seems set up to allow a sort of trickery to take place but the outcome isn’t predetermined.
The adventure accounts for potential follow-up by providing some hooks, as well as potentially granting the PCs an item that might cause trouble down the line; a ring that is actually a phylactery for an evil lich!
There’s some problems to In the Vine’s Eye. It’s long for an adventure that by all rights could be completed in 1-2 sessions, and the organization of text by topic does not always make it easy to locate pertinent information. Because of the small size of the adventure, this is by no means a crippling flaw however.
I’d call this one light. There’s no complicated maps or encounters (with the exception of the Grove of Ash), the gimmick of having to negotiate with the Cyclops is a welcome diversion from the habitual murder-hobo-ing and there are some charming mythological bits and touches that give it some charm but its otherwise simple and straightforward. It’s the craftsmanship that elevates it, the little nuggets of evocative description or the odd clever idea. I’d give it a low ***
Faster Monkey Games closed shop since 2016, but were kind enough to make their entire catalogue available to the public on drivetru for PWYW. For some reason this one seems to have vanished entirely. What happened?