[Review] A Fool’s Errand (OSR); Skill Curve

[Adventure]
Fool’s Errand (2020)

Shane Ward (3toadstool Publishing)
Lvl 3

A Fool's Errand


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Humble adventure cobbler Shane Ward tried to get me to take his submission with the tagline ‘Feel like ripping me a new one?’ and at the promise of some of the ole’ rip & tear I could not, in good conscience, refuse. The damage is contained. Fool’s Errand is on the cusp of being decent but falls short on matters that can fortunately be improved with practice.

Reading and running very good adventures is rewarding as it stimulates and improves one’s own module writing capabilities but writing and reading mediocre adventures or adventures on the cusp of decency is rewarding because it stimulates one to consider how something could be done better or why it works in some places and not in others.

The adventure is nominally 29-pages but the hook starts going at about 9 pages in and the margins are thick, with the rest taken up by conversion notes for 5e. What is the assumed baseline knowledge for anyone purchasing an OSR product these days? Do you expect to get a lot of newbs that would benefit from such advice to the point of being helped by it? This new trend of generic OSR is deeply frightening and worrisome to me, a dyed in the wool cynic and beautiful dreamer.

There is a short description of the continent of Crimhuck, about a paragraph, which I am in two minds about. I think at this level of detail, and given that your adventure doesn’t explicitly rely on certain assumptions, it might be better to omit this entirely, as any relevant information can easily be inferred from the adventure.

We arrive at the premise, which has the right elements but applies them imprecisely.

A local jester (Gat) is looking for an ancient tome detailing long forgotten dances, it is called the “Grimoire Of Collected Dance” written by Halin Dwarivsh. He hopes to take his stage show to the next level. He hires the PCs to track it down after finding the possible location of the tome. In return for the tome, the PCs will receive a treasure map and some gold. The jester is part of a local troupe, (him and his brother). The brother (Lath) is very cynical and believes this book to be cursed. He has overheard the conversations his brother has been having, and is quite worried about the outcome. He has hired a local sorceress to make sure that the book remains hidden. Unbeknownst to either party, a demon has been on the trail of the cynical brother and is using this tome for his own means.

The broad outline sort of works, but the myriad relations end up tangling the work in convolution rather than adding extra depth. You have an NPC that wants something from the PCs, and there’s another NPC that wants to interfere or also wants it so as to create a conflict of interest. Some gold and a treasure map? How much is Gat expecting to make with his tome of dances that it is worth the map to such a great treasure? A Demon is added to the mixture, though his relationship with the brother is not really necessary to make the whole peace work, the same goes for the sorceress, and it seems strange the demon (who it is revealed owns Lath’s soul) would not use this to get him to obtain it for himself. “Grimoire of Collected Dance” is not wrong but is a little too on the nose for my taste. “The Tractate of the Ten Thousand Heavenly Steps” or something would help elevate such a weighty tome to the respect it should inspire. Twin brothers is a good idea, very folklorish.

I can spend fucking pages analyzing this but it ultimately doesn’t matter that much. Your hook is essentially the salespitch for your adventure. If you bungle it up you lose some time but it doesn’t matter if your dungeon is good.

The dungeon proper has a room mechanic that is essentially an additional random encounter table that triggers with each room and has a flat 60% chance to trigger something in each room, with some of the effects obliterating all your gold and items, the other eradicating your torches and rations. Pardon the Queen’s English, but what the EVERLOVING FUCK? My magic items? The thing I value over the Life of my PC? And they just vanish? Pardonnez moi? Unacceptable.

The encounters that are interest are the demon appearing to attempt to make a deal with the PCs to help him get the damn tome for himself so he can use it to get cynical brother’s soul in a manner that does not make sense, though it would explain why the cynical brother is so averse to having it be recovered in the first place. The demon offers loot and a pact from HELL if the party accedes and spitefully summons a giant demon lizard if they refuse, which is about on par. You get a bunch of really cool stuff if you say yes, and as written, it is not really implied that deciding to serve the demon is in any way detrimental to the characters. I’d at least go for something cheeky like the demon’s reward being “4000 sp, a +1 intelligent battleaxe and an eternity of torture in the fires of hell.” The Sorceress showing up is alright because she at least attempts to interact with the PCs in a manner that does not involve  automatic violence (she even has the courtesy to knock them out via Sleep spell).

Tip; Put all this shit on your random encounter table so the GM has to roll less dice and can just have the interesting encounters alongside the Skeletons, Acid jellies, sand worms and other assorted random creatures that haunt the tomb.

Caves proper are 4 linear levels connected by a single winding stairway allowing for some degree of nonlinearity. Once again, the right moves are taken; the upper level is inhabited by drug-pushing cutthroats running shady deals in the city, the second level is undead, third level is alien “greys”, fourth level is mermen and the sage.

Several map designing sins are committed; The stairways are nice because they give you some sort of options when exploring this place but each floor is only 3-5 rooms. That doesn’t HAVE to be bad but you deny yourself so many interesting design decisions or elements that in the balance it does end up that way. D&D is about exploring the unknown, about choices, decisions, do I push my luck? A good map allows you to lure your opponents into a bottleneck, keep complicated maps, use sharp insight to discern the location of secret passageways, get lost, and give one a sense of exploring the unknown, the mythic underworld if you will. Some attempt is made by having an underground river cross some of the levels, which does allow for nonlinear exploration if you can figure out a way to survive it. Maybe I am judging this too harshly.

A second sin is commited when it comes to trap placement. There is a trapdoor in the middle of a hallway and a trip wire down a winding passage (where its placement doesn’t really make a lot of sense, but it’s not that bad). I personally hate traps in innocuous hallways unless they are chutes that dump the players onto a level, or 10 levels, lower. The reason is that from that day forward, PCs are going to check every innocuous fucking hallway they come across. It eats up a tonne of flops and the benefits are not worth the price. Now that I think about it, if you want to use traps properly you place them in such a fashion as the PCs have some chance to figure out whether or not a place might be trapped. Or you can place traps as obstacles instead of static damage which is paid as a sort of trap tax but swiftly forgotten about.

There’s something off about some of the encounters. They make the right motions but it doesn’t quite hit. Let me give you an example.

Room 9) A set of stairs leads up to a pile of rubble. It appears to have been a dark marble statue, a large hand is visible within the debris.

That’s good because it would prompt me to investigate. Is there something in the hand? Will a marble golem come bursting through the rubble? Is it actually a marble medusa monster?

If a search is made, under a pile of rubble is a small compartment in the floor. Within it is a bag of gold (50), and a small ring. (+1 vs undead, when in the presence of undead they glow purplish).
• The statue was that of a long dead noble.
• Within 1d4 rounds, a group of biting flies will start coming out from the rubble. They are more of a nuisance than anything (treat as a swarm).


Something is going wrong. Why draw my eye to the statue and then place the treasure under a nondescript pile of rubble? The statue is now a red herring, and the flies don’t really make sense in the context of a pile of rubble in a tomb. If there was a corpse or something, maybe. The right moves are taken but the subtlety, the deeper understanding is sometimes missing.

The treasure is good, in fact most of the treasure in this adventure is interesting enough, even the nonmagical one. When was the last time you carried off a bunch of alien hull metal plates? I’d recommend putting in some items that don’t give static bonuses to character attributes (like AC or saving throws), putting more limited use items in, throwing in a cursed item or two but overall, good enough. The alien communicator that you can only activate if you are a smart boy and figure out how to use the alien mummy to do it was actually my favorite. I mean, it being worth 300 gp while giving a +2 bonus to all saves is complete madness but it was fun, good idea. Actually, IT DOES have cursed items. A collar of regeneration that might turn you into a mindless alien hybrid, reading the Tome of Dances will make you vulnerable to the Ghostly sage at the bottom of the dungeon with his enchanted violins that will make you Dance until you die. The idea of a cursed dancing tome is pretty gnarly.

Which reminds me;
Strange metal pieces are piled haphazardly throughout the room, making navigating the room almost impossible. The sheets of metal are obsidian in colour and have strange runes written upon them.

Already blue balls. Holy fuck what is this?!?

• This is the remains of an Alien spaceship. It was ripped apart and stored here. There is nothing of interest within the room other than the spaceship. The metal alloy may be worth money.
First; Only explain the bare necessities that the GM needs to run the scenario, and leave the rest ambiguous. That way the GM has room to interpret it as he sees fit but it also prevents you from painting yourself into a corner. Things are often more interesting if they are mysterious. Second; what do you mean “may be worth money?” You are the module author. Do you honestly not expect my PCs, bless their greedy little hearts, to not cart off these plates of possibly indestructible space metal and have it forged into alien platemail?

There’s a sort of rudimentary faction in the form of underground mermen chilling out in the bottom of the dungeon but the placement is a bit odd. I imagine going through the entire dungeon, finding the tome, having beaten up the demon, and then finding them and going ‘sup?’ and them ‘sup?’ and then just walking back. They are a bit shy apparently, but credit where it is due, they have the decency to attack if you go for the golden trident on the mer statue.

Outward Encounter variety is okay, a nice balance of humans, animating skeletons, merpeople, and weird shit like the demon and the sorceress, but there’s a lot of ‘attacks on sight’ here. Consider throwing in the odd encounter that must be avoided (I think that damn troll in Dusty Door counts), talked past or tricked instead of hammered down.  

I think Shane improved since Dusty Door but greater ambition requires greater finesse and Fool’s errand doesn’t quite pull its separate elements together. There’s a few suspension-of-disbelief breaking errors, the occasional off-placement of trap, the skeletons animating in rubble heaps that doesn’t, not quite, render it into something where I’d call it good enough to run as is.

I can go on on how you can polish up the rogues on the first level a bit more or give the scholar ghost some distinctive features or why hiding treasure is good but placing it under nondescript rocks is not but I think y’all get the gist of it.  In a Saturday night beer and pretzel’s game most of this stuff flies, we’ve all done it, but as soon as you start charging a buck I start getting critical. Fortunately it’s PWYW. **


5 thoughts on “[Review] A Fool’s Errand (OSR); Skill Curve

  1. Thank you very much. I’ve been on the fence about the adding the osr conversion notes. Moving forward I think I’ll just use lab lord or blueholme. Most people running games already know how to convert between systems. All good points on the rest of the adventure. I may go back and do a few tweaks.

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    1. Pleasure. I don’t think its fundamentally flawed (although that magic item removal shit has got to go or be changed!), so it’s more a matter of tweaking until its done right. You did the underground river stuff, the treasure is interesting, the premise is good, try specifying some encounters so they give the GM a little more to work with. Generic thugs is good in a pitch, but what if they were ‘The Black Hand,’ each missing an pinky finger on their left hand, and they fight by throwing pots of burning lotus incence at the player? Or just have the skeletons do something before they animate and attack. Or make them Alien Skeletons. You often don’t need to change the statts. The Merman stuff could have been a bit tighter but at least it works in theory; NPCs that are not immediately hostile and that might be dangerous but that have valuables the PCs might want.

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      1. Agreed. I think the trick is is to just go for it. Obviously not be overly wordy. I once did the goblin skseltons which just confused the crap out a reviewer. I’m currently working on a 5e adventure that I’m running. I’ll likely put it up as a freebie on my blog. Then I’d like to go back tweak all my adventures and then put it out as a pod. The only one that is fundamentally flawed is mad God’s jest. Just a silly idea. And yeah nerfing magic items is super evil. Maybe it will just affect the way they work for a bit. Fizzle pop Nada.

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      2. I’m not sure I agree with you about Mad God’s Jest being fundamentally flawed. An adventure in two halves of the brain of a mad god sounds pretty exciting. I wrote a review a while back about a Role Aids adventure called Swordthrust, that had a similar premise, you adventure in the brain of an elder Titan and face the creatures congealed from his sins and virtues. It’s…it’s something else alright.

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  2. Some comments for the author. Inspired by Prince’s review, I reread the Tomb of Gardag the Strange. Anyone who includes a gruesome picture of the titular character with a caption “Gardag prior to his morning coffee” surely runs a fun table. And the adventure definitely has spark and plenty going on, it is worth the effort of improving it. The map looks good, but a number of passages are dead ends, and there is a lack of alternate routes to some rooms. Intelligent beings randomly encountered should be described as doing something, even if they are just looting. On the other hand, an alternate entrance is a fine feature. Is the exceptionally beautiful woman encased in wax a nod to Hammer Horror, or perhaps Carry on Screaming? I agree with Bryce that you missed a trick by not having descriptions of the pictures, an opportunity to give details of Gardag’s past in an unconventional way. It is not clear if the tomb has been frequently disturbed or not? The random encounters suggest yes; the lack of corpses (which can also be a way of tipping off an intelligent party about traps) suggests no. The henchmen at the end are interesting, but sometimes the descriptions don’t seem to match the statistics (e.g. Zertey seems to be far from deadly in a fight, the feisty Aleah has charisma 3?).
    It seems most of your offerings describe a smallish dungeon, with some interesting twist why you might be exploring. Tone sometimes feels inconsistent within the dungeon You might want to pick up a pdf of B10 Night’s Dark Terror and have a look at some of the dungeon based encounters in there, especially the orcs in a mine worshipping a spider as a god. some of the goblin lairs. I think the above review and the many you have had on tenfootpole are packed with helpful advice.

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