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: This article contains affiliate links. Also I participated in the Fall 2020 RPG Writer Workshop, and my adventure is included in this bundle. If you want more information about my adventure, you can find my blog post discussing it here.
Riches of the Earth by Basil Wright
An adventure for D&D5e, included in RPG Writer Workshop bundle 2.
Riches of the Earth is an intriguing and slightly unsettling mix of potato based humour and Gothic horror. The characters find themselves in Tuberton, a town obsessed with potatoes and, specifically, potato chip flavours, thanks to the combination of being located both on prime ‘tater growing land and next to a salt mine. Your first introduction to the adventure is therefore relatively light-hearted and comic. Several of the NPCs will direct the characters to the central plot, which means that it should be pretty obvious to them what to do, without it seeming forced. Should the players however decide that they don’t care, then the author has helpfully provided a table covering the activities that might happen as they continue on their journey. There is also a specific outcome in the conclusion chapter of the adventure for this eventuality, so that the DM isn’t left on their own.
Once the characters get stuck into the plot there is less room for deviation, as they make their way through the salt mines looking for missing workers and their would-be rescuers that got lost before the characters arrived. On their way, they will face off against a variety of creepy crawlies, accompanied by sufficiently disturbing descriptions. The monsters are slightly modified by necromantic magic, which makes for a nice change from their standard versions, and hints at what the characters might be facing. The descriptions wouldn’t be out of place in a campfire horror story. This makes for quite the abrupt change of tone from the initial chapter which should only add to the feelings of dread and worry that your players might be experiencing by this point. I would like to point out here that several of these encounters invoke quite common phobias and therefore might need to be adapted to your, and your players, sensibilities. These include spiders, snakes and insects.
The adventure culminates in a disturbing boss fight that makes up the most likely possible climax of this adventure. I say most likely because the author describes what happens should the characters choose to retreat, or indeed if they submit and ally with the final boss. Should they go right to the end, this fight against an alhoon (this requires Volo’s Guide to Monsters for the stat block) should surprise your players, both by its strength (though the author has reduced its power slightly to make it a feasible, if difficult, encounter for the suggested levels) and by its nature. The boss is a surprise reveal, as it turns out to be one of the NPCs encountered earlier in the adventure, completing the horror elements that the later half of this adventure is steeped in.
The adventure is an interesting mix of humour and horror that will intrigue many groups. It has a selection of really diverse NPCs with some very unusual stat blocks that almost make it worth picking up just for that. What really sells it for me however are the excellent descriptions provided throughout the adventure that really set the tone, which is reinforced by the modifications made to what would otherwise be traditional encounters. There is a real sense of cohesiveness about this adventure that you wouldn’t expect from a horror story that starts by arguing about potato crisp flavours. A very good pick up for a more experienced DM or for anyone looking for perfect examples of descriptions employing all five senses. This should be excellent for a Halloween one-shot or if your players are getting complacent and you want to shake them up a bit with a twist.
Behind the Screens
Hello Basil, and thanks for agreeing to this interview. I was glad when you wanted to participate because, as a big potato fan, I was worryingly excited to take a look at this adventure. I really wasn’t expecting the turn that it took at the end, but I’d like to come back to that in a bit. Firstly, potatoes. I love them as much as the next potato-philiac, but they’re not generally what I expect to find in a D&D adventure. What was the reasoning behind starting in a crisp-flavour obsessed town?
The reasoning behind making an adventure, and a town, obsessed with potatoes is actually a bit funny. I was on my lunch break at work and trying to figure out what to write for the Workshop. I was eating a bag of potato chips and was idly reading the marketing blurb on the back. It was going on about the history of the kettle-baked potato chips (which are not my favorite, but we had them at the house so I was eating them), when at the very bottom it said, “Do you want to serve Miss Vickie’s?” It was then that I had my adventure idea. Which is to say that yes, my entire module originated from a bag of Miss Vickie’s baked potato chips.
The adventure swiftly changes after the characters leave the town, from humour to horror. It’s quite an abrupt shift, and one that you do perfectly with some of the most vivid descriptions I’ve read. They really made my skin crawl at some points. Why did you want to mix the two genres, rather than writing an adventure based entirely on one or the other?
I’ll state up front that I’m actually a super weenie when it comes to horror! I cannot stand spooky movies; I’m that kid who slept with all the lights on after watching The Black Cauldron and even the first Lord of the Rings gave me nightmares as a kid. I really do like that creeping sense of horror, like what goes in Get Out. That sort of Black horror, where the terror is less some swamp creature from the lake, but instead the terrifying nature of white people, that really sticks in my brain and wants to be told. I also didn’t want it to be too spooky though: this was my first adventure and I wanted something fun and (mostly) peaceful! A town that has no white people (except Miss Victoria) so you know something’s up (if you’re not white) full of people that really love potatoes. I’d also say that my writing tends to lend more towards humor, so it just infects everything I write, I suppose.Editor’s note: The Black Cauldron is a legitimately terrifying movie that should never be shown to children.
The end boss is a surprise twist. One of the NPCs from the start is actually an alhoon that the characters have to face. Why did you want to add this twist, rather than just having a random alhoon?
I kinda touched on this in the last answer, but from the very start I planned for that NPC to be the villain. When I ran the plot of the adventure by my friends and my sibling, they all immediately picked up on some clues I put out, which was great. I think there’s a real well to be mined from the type of experiences People of Color face, and I wanted to turn the nature of “sole minority in a majority” setting on its head. Hopefully I succeeded.
An alhoon is quite a challenge for characters of this level. You’ve reduced it’s power slightly but are you worried that it might still be a bit much?
I am still worrying about it as I type this answer out, haha! It works thematically, but I really did worry that the alhoon would be too strong for the recommended level of the party. Hopefully I’m mistaken and everything works out well, but if not, here’s hoping the DM improvises.
Outside of the main plot of the adventure, you have provided a random table with a whole activity for if the characters leave the town towards the nearby Gemhollow, which doesn’t even appear in the adventure. Was this something that you had on standby, or something that you wrote specially to provide a bit more depth to the adventure if required?
I actually didn’t have plans to include a random table when I was working on the adventure, but I was talking to a coworker who has way more D&D experience than I do, and she recommended it since her party likes to go where they’re not supposed to. That’s not to say that the players aren’t supposed to go to Gemhollow, just that I hadn’t initially planned on anyone not being entranced by Tuberton and tasty, tasty, potatoes. I actually had fun putting together that table, and I plan on putting another one in my next adventure.
Will we be seeing a follow up adventure, possibly in Gemhollow? Or do you want to move on to other projects?
Gosh, I would love to write another adventure about Tuberton, or Gemhollow, or maybe another town in the little world I’ve created. However, my brain right now has latched onto a new adventure, and until I get that one written down, I won’t be able to think about my favorite potato people. I’m very attached to all of the NPCs I’ve created, and if I had to throw out a teaser of something in the “Tuberton-verse”, if I can call it that, then perhaps something with Aurora Seabreeze and her wife, because I love coming up with tavern food.
Is there anything else that you’d like to add before we end?
This may be a Cursed Potato Opinion, but everyone says you can’t reheat french fries in the microwave, but I think they taste perfectly fine. Thanks for taking the time to look over my adventure, and I appreciate the chance to talk about it!
Thank you again, and I hope that we get to see many more adventures from you in the future!
Until next time, be more kind,