Welcome back to our series of reviews of some of the works from the Fall 2020 RPG Writer Workshop. Each review will be followed with a brief chat with its author(s) where we will be delving a bit deeper into some of the aspects that most intrigued me. Every two days there will be a new review and mini-interview out, so keep tuned to discover some of the amazing things that these bright new authors are coming up with.
Spoiler warning: It is simply not practical to review a product without mentioning anything about it. I have attempted to remain vague where possible, however I can not guarantee that you will not learn something about the adventure by reading this review.
Declaration of interest: I am part of the affiliate program for OneBookShelf. If you use the links provided in this article to purchase a product I get a small kickback from it.
Red Gold by Yvris Burke
An adventure for D&D5e, included in the Fall 2020 DMsGuild RPG Writer Workshop bundle 4.
Perfect for an “Eberron-esque” setting where magic is everywhere, Red Gold is one of the more intriguing scenarios that I’ve seen. The premise is that deep in the earth there is a highly potent magic liquid known as dragon essence. Blinded by greed, the aptly named Captain Seaslick has built the magical equivalent of an offshore oil rig, with appropriately magical ecological consequences.
The adventure starts with a bar brawl between pirates and druids, which somehow manages to both capture the traditional essence of a D&D adventure (you all meet in a tavern) with an interesting twist (how on earth did pirates and druids end up in the same place). It’s this juxtaposition of tradition and innovation that really shines in this adventure.
The adventure quickly ramps up after this initial fight as the characters have to race to stop a group of cultists whose actions risk to have major short and long term impacts if they’re not stopped. It finishes with a climactic battle as they desperately try to escape the rig on an airship, while the dragon essence itself tries to take revenge. The adventure feels very cinematic and hectic as the characters have to race against time, with elements provided to reinforce this feeling. The author has provided a random table that helps describe the rig as it falls apart around the characters, and as in-game time advances more monsters arrive, adding extra urgency. In a longer adventure this might feel overwhelming, but in this case the scenario benefits from being compact and self contained. The characters are stuck on the rig, and can’t go travelling for miles around wasting time. I can see this adventure being easily usable as a horror scenario, especially if you want to play up the appearance of the new monsters as even more grotesquely mutated by the dragon essence.
The adventure is described in just two pages, making it very easy to pick up and play with very little preparation. It’s also easy for the DM to follow the plot without having to constantly flick back and forth. The maps and room descriptions provided are all grouped together, and don’t contain plot elements in them, so it is easy to focus on exactly what each room provides. I found this presentation very easy to follow, as I knew what the characters objectives were without being lost in details.
This adventure might not be the easiest to fit into an ongoing campaign, as you’ll need to find a reason for why your characters are on a rig out in the sea, but it isn’t impossible and the author provides hooks to place your characters directly into the action. These hooks work best for me with newly created PCs, which fits with the levels that it is destined for.
In conclusion, this scenario makes for a very good starting adventure in a high magic campaign setting with plenty of technology. It’s self contained and simple nature makes it easy to apprehend for newer players, whilst it also provides enough depth to keep more experienced players involved. I could also see it as the almost perfect horror one-shot with a few pre-made characters that would allow it to be played rapidly in a night.
Behind the Screens
Hello Yvris, thanks for agreeing to this interview. I’d like to start by talking about the location that your adventure takes place in. Often when we think of fantasy and D&D, there is a certain glamour to it. Valiant heroes going off on adventures to save the world, enchanted forests, great big castles, etcetera. What you’ve done is taken one of the least sexy locations I can imagine, an oil rig, and decided to stick your heroes right in the centre of it. How did you come up with the idea of the worlds first magical oil rig?
I heard some advice (I wish I remembered where) which said that if you want to make a setting fantastical you should make it really, really old or really, really big. So of course I went with something newly constructed and cramped. It’s hard to remember my exact thought process. I keep a note file on my phone and drop ideas in there whenever they come up. This was one of those. I think the chain of thought went: “Dinosaurs are cool.” “Oil is made of dinosaurs.” “Dinosaurs and dragons are alike in some ways.” “What if oil, but made of dragons?” I jotted the thought down and forgot about it. When I needed an idea for my RPG Writer Workshop project I looked at it again and liked the rig environment as a way of limiting the scope of the adventure I was trying to write in such a short span of time. Oh, also my dad used to work on an offshore oil rig and once sent me a GoPro tour video of him walking about on there. Such a weird, cloistered industrial world those workers inhabit. It’s stuck with me for years.
It seems pretty safe to say that there’s clear ecological message in this adventure. Was this something that was intentional on your part, or a happy bi-product of the chosen location?
Totally intentional, yep. Once I thought of an offshore rig the ecological side of things was a very short leap, and one I knew right away that I wanted to lean into. Another workshop participant mentioned to me that resource extraction was something of a recurring theme with this set of graduate adventures. I guess ecological themes are on a lot of our minds, understandably!
There is a quote by Gary Gygax that says “game time is of utmost importance.” It goes into more detail but the essence is that characters taking time to do things should have an impact on the adventure. I think your scenario really captures this well. You have added elements in to really ramp up the dramatic tension as the characters feel like they only have a limited time to complete the mission and escape. Do you feel like “time management” is a resource that adventures and DMs don’t exploit enough in their games?
Well, I know my own much beloved regular campaign group will get into planning and deliberating for hours without making a move unless a sense of urgency is impressed upon them. Being quite new as a DM I’ve struggled with knowing when to cut them short when they get into that endless cycle – and it can be endless, there are no perfect plans to be made with the incomplete information players are usually working with. So I think with the mechanics I added in this one-shot I wanted to give DMs a clear way to create that sense of urgency and to help their players get into the action a bit quicker. I think it’s more fun for everyone that way.
I also couldn’t help thinking what an amazing horror scenario this would make. The characters are trapped far out on sea, with only one means of escape, as cultists and cthulhu-esque monsters attack them. I’ve already started planning to make some pre-made characters for next years Halloween game. Were you inspired by works of horror when working on the scenario?
You’re totally right, it would make a great horror setting! Though I was in an action and adventure genre headspace while working on this. Probably because I am a total, total wimp about horror so I just don’t consume a whole lot of it. I’ve never read Lovecraft, although I have played a little Call of Cthulhu. One exception to my horror-avoidance is that I do like the Alien films A LOT and they come to mind as an influence. They’re an intersection of the two genres – action/horror – I suppose. I do want to explore more horror themes in future. I have a theory that maybe being easily creeped out gives me a good internal compass for creepy, chilling things. We’ll see!
Can we expect more adventures from you in a high tech setting as you continue to explore the potential of “dragon essence”? Or do you feel like a change of direction for the future?
Well, I have three other ideas I’m trying to decide between and they’re all a lot different. So I guess it’ll be a change of direction at least for a while. With that said if people like this setting and the ideas within then that’ll likely tempt me in this direction again. I’m all about telling a story people are going to engage with and enjoy. That’s what’s so great about TTRPGs as a story telling medium: how quickly you can share a narrative with people and see them react to it. And they don’t just react, they tinker with it and push it in all different directions that you hadn’t imagined. That’s just endlessly exciting to me. Mainly I hope to write things that inspire and leave space for other people to come in and play.
Until next time, be more kind,