Sunday, 19 January 2020

D&D Review! First Adventure by Leonardo Benucci

Update 20/01/2020: The author has made me aware of updates to the adventure which occurred between my receipt of the review copy and my posting the review. These addition elements are now factored into the review. 

Today's review is First Adventure by Leonardo Benucci. The product's title is apt: it's a first for me too! In my case, the first 3rd-party D&D adventure I'll ever formally review!

Given the DM-oriented nature of this product, anyone who doesn't expect they might run it should probably turn away now! The review won't be spoiler free.


First Adventure - the Goonies-inspired cover!


Value

First Adventure is 64 pages long, which includes the cover, contents, credits, 16 pages worth of adventure, and 45 pages of extensive appendices. These appendices include two creature statblocks, rules for playing kid PCs (yup, you read that right), pregen characters on custom drawn character sheets, illustrations, and maps. The adventure probably should be longer too, as it uses a very conservative size 10 font which compresses it into less pages than it might otherwise occupy. The product is currently priced at only $4.99 but to be honest, it could be priced higher. It should be priced higher. I can't take points off the product's "value" score for being too cheap, because this score is ultimately about value to you, the prospective consumer. But I feel obliged to at least mention it because I really want creatives to recognise the value of their work and price their offerings accordingly.

SCORE OUT OF 4:

Quality


The layout and other design elements of First Adventure are competent for a first effort, though the product lacks some of the polish a more experienced graphic designer might be able to bring to the table. But the crucial point here is that there is very little that will get in the way of your usage of the product. Everything is laid out in a way that is usually clear and relatively easy to parse. There are a few issues that do affect legibility:

  • I think the product could be slightly improved by increasing spacing between some design elements (the space between read-aloud text and the body text, for instance)
  • I'd suggest increasing the font size from 10 to 11. 
  • In some places where text wraps around images, it is difficult to read. I would recommend either turning off the wrapping or reducing the size of the image.
  • I would also recommend the author to make another editing pass. There are some missing words and typos yet to be excised, and some of boxed text has no line breaks between paragraphs.

Pregen Character Sheet - Jeff.


First Adventure includes a lot of graphical elements including a large amount of art, hand-drawn character sheets, and maps. I think the art is all original! If so, it's just another reason the adventure is under-priced.

The adventure is very well written, with impressively evocative boxed text that really helped draw me into the narrative. There are a few errors as noted above, but nothing that prevented me from understanding a  passage.

SCORE OUT OF 6:



Content

First Adventure differs from most adventure modules in that it's primarily intended to be a self-contained one-shot (you can launch a campaign with it, particularly if you choose not to use the six pregen characters provided). It is also divided into two acts: in the first, players take on the roles of a group of children who go on a journey to find a way to the Faerie Realm, which they do to keep a promise made to their mother on her deathbed. They are in fact meant to fail, but that sets the stage for act 2 in which any survivors return as young adults.

Meant to fail act 1? Return in act 2? Really? Yes. This is an adventure which is comfortable with what we call railroading. It has a specific story to tell, and keeps the players on that path. This is acceptable given the format of the adventure as a one-shot experience. In the context of a campaign, it's probably better for beginner players who may not chafe as much at forced events. Or simply players who value a good story.

Despite the characters starting off as young children, First Adventure is not necessarily child-friendly as written. It is quite possible for one of the kid adventurers to meet a grisly demise in Act 1 - though as DM you can, of course, make any modifications you deem necessary. The dark "bad ending" is also the most likely one, which may not be how you want to leave things with young players.


The Faerie Realm.


Boxed text is pretty standard in adventures, and First Adventure is no exception. Some DMs like boxed text, others don't. A few of the boxes in First Adventure run to multiple paragraphs, which the latter group probably won't appreciate. The area descriptions could be shorter, the DM trusted more to fill out absent details. But new DMs using First Adventure as their own introduction into D&D will no doubt appreciate the attention to detail.  There is also a prologue which is meant to be read aloud. It's a really nice bit of writing which beautifully sets the stage for the adventure, but in my honest opinion it's too long to read at the table. I'd suggest emailing it to players in advance of the session.

In my view, there are a few things in the adventure that could frustrate some groups:

  • To acquire the flower which the characters want for their adoptive mother's grave, they must entertain a group of pixies. The adventure resolves this scene by requiring that the players themselves must make the DM laugh. This might make some players uncomfortable, so bear in mind the personality types in your group.
  • There are two possible endings for this adventure, and the "good ending" is conditional on players having a gut feeling without being given any clues in particular that might nudge them in that  direction. Some seeds earlier in the adventure regarding the reveal would have gone a long way.  
  • A lot of the features and abilities on the pregen sheets are probably going to go end up unused, which seems a shame. This is actually a common issue with pregens, but it's very noticeable in First Adventure. The second act, for instance, calls for only a very few checks and saves and even the act's one combat can be avoided through a successful Perception check. 

Pixies!

DMs whose groups are the types who can focus on the story and enjoy roleplaying as kids will thrive playing First Adventure. Groups that like combat, dungeon-crawling, and engaging with the mechanics of the game will probably find the adventure ill-suited to their type of enjoyment. However, I'm certain that with a little work a DM could expand the adventure with additional encounters both in the mine and in the Faerie Realm. 

I've mentioned already that the adventure has substantial appendices. I've already covered the fact that it includes a lot of custom art, maps, and hand-drawn character sheets. So I'll conclude by summarising the contents of Appendix A: Creatures Appendix B: Magic Items, and Appendix C: Kids as PCs.

Appendix A: Creatures

There is only one creature to fight in this adventure (and it can be bypassed through more peaceful means): the owlbear. It's encountered in both acts, but grows a lot in the intervening 17 years. This appendix includes two custom statblocks for a young owlbear (CR 2) and a fiendish owlbear (CR 6).

Appendix B: Magic Items

This appendix provides actual rules for the Flower of a Thousand Colours, the object of the children's quest. This is a legendary item with remarkable properties of healing and protection. But it's a fragile flower which must be kept planted and watered in, at minimum, a pot. Many of the flowers properties only benefit you if you carry it, but it's obviously quite inconvenient to take it adventuring - especially since it withers and dies when too many acts of violence occur around it. It could be planted at a group's base of operations, however, allowing them to use its abilities to heal up between adventures and protect their home.

Appendix C: Kids as PCs

This part of the adventure presents guidelines for making child PCs, which is helpful if you want to create custom PCs instead of using pregens, or if you want to create your own child-oriented adventure.


SCORE OUT OF 10:


Final Thoughts and Rating


FINAL SCORE OUT OF 20:
++=  
 
15 out of 20! A great hit!


First Adventure is a labour of love, and has been crafted with an impressive incredible attention to detail. For the author's first publication, it's truly an exemplary effort! There is room for improvement in terms of the product's layout and design, but nothing that makes it impossible to read or run the adventure.

Therefore, while I certainly do recommend First Adventure, it's important to note that its laser focus on the narrative being told results in a linear path and some sacrifice of player agency. It's also considerably less kid-friendly than first appearances suggest, though it wouldn't be too hard for a DM to make adjustments to change that. As such my recommendation comes with the caveat that this product is better suited to some groups than others.

Even if you'll never run First Adventure, the rules for kid PCs and the pregen characters could be very useful for running your own child-oriented adventures! At only $4.99, you could do a lot worse than to pick First Adventure up for those alone.

The final word: An astonishingly ambitious inaugural effort from author Leonardo Benucci, First Adventure spins a cinematic yarn that will appeal to some groups but the linearity of which may frustrate others. First Adventure is available on DMsGuild now!


Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Our itch.io store has launched!

Spilled Ale Studios now has an itch.io store! The store has launched with three pieces of stock art, and will expand in time. When our agreement with DriveThruRPG has transitioned to non-exclusive terms, you can also expect some RPG products to be added to the itch.io store as well!