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 includes affiliate links.
No News From Nerlin by Sinan Turnacioglu
An adventure for D&D5e, part of the RPG Writer Workshop Fall 2020 bundle volume 2.
No News from Nerlin is a solid low level adventure perfectly adapted for new DMs and new players, as it covers most of the basics and introduces them gradually with a nice easy learning curve. It has a very classic feel to it, pulling on some traditional tropes with the occasional twist to keep things fresh. It also provides quite a few future plot hooks, and an appendix that gives some background information on the area and a variety of organisations that fit in it, which is perfect for those looking for a seed for their campaign.
The party starts out in a pretty traditional fantasy village, and are tasked with investigating why the delivery from a local hamlet is running late. If they hang about in town to investigate a bit more, they’ll find out that a couple of local boys went to check it out and saw some worrying things going on, but that the villager elders have a hard time believing them. This will help the players anticipate the next sections, and also show the value of doing a bit of investigation before rushing off. There’s also the possibility to pick up an NPC follower, trying to escape from her usual gender role, which provides a nice touch of modernity into an otherwise traditional plot.
The party will then move onto the main section of the adventure: exploring the hamlet, and getting rid of the forces that menace it, to save its populace. The party face off against some good classic low level monsters that you’ll find in most D&D games, and will also get to face off, in the conclusion, against a more complex opponent in the form of a spell casting necromancer and their minion. This gradual ramp up in complexity leans into the teaching aspect that is prevalent throughout.
Another example is that at one point the party explores a trapped house, but in a twist the enemy minions have already activated and got caught by the traps. This is not only quite funny, but also helps teach the players the importance of investigating and exploring, without punishing the characters for player lack of knowledge. Should they make the most of this lesson and explore, they will also get a few low level magic items for some extra positive reinforcement.
There are a few layout and formatting glitches but nothing major, in what is an otherwise well written and executed adventure. It is a great way of introducing new players and DMs to the game, with a simple framework that covers most of the basics of D&D and gradually ramps up in complexity, as well as finding innovative ways of showing off mechanics without punishing the characters. Overall, a solid addition if you’re looking for an actual one shot that can be easily converted into a longer campaign with a more classic feel to it.
Behind the Screens
Hello Sinan, and thanks for agreeing to this interview. What struck me the most with your adventure is how well it works as a teaching adventure. I think the part that most captures this is when the party discovers goblins that have been caught in traps. This allows the DM to narratively point out the importance of checking for traps, without mechanically punishing the characters. Did you design this adventure as a “learning experience” for new players?
Yes, I started thinking about it as a way to introduce my kids to D&D. There’s a lot of discussion about the “hot start” approach to structuring an adventure – for example, “Cultists kidnapped the miller’s daughter! We need the adventurers to save her!” Which is great, but I thought about putting the roleplaying and exploration experiences in to try to ensure it wasn’t all about combat. With the traps, too, I thought about how environments often seem static in adventures. The traps are set waiting for the adventurers to trigger them. So in this situation, the goblins have already come through and encountered the traps, hopefully conveying a more dynamic setting.
Your adventure also has a very classic feel to it. It uses a lot of the traditional tropes and monsters from D&D, even the cartography reminded me of some older video game RPGs. Was this something you we’re trying to emulate, or is it more of your personal preference?
Totally. I started out with D&D back in Basic and First Edition in the 1980’s, and remember how much fun it was to first encounter some of those classic Monster Manual creatures. That comparison of the cartography to video games may have been a happy accident, or maybe just the aesthetic that appealed to me subconsciously as I was trying to create the maps. (I’ve certainly spent plenty of hours on fantasy video games over the years!)
There are a couple of opportunities in the adventure for the characters to pick up some magic items, some that are often used (like a +1 weapon) and some we see less often (like the driftglobe). Some DMs shy away from giving magical items to low level characters. How would you suggest that DMs and, perhaps more importantly in this case, adventure designers approach low level magic items?
It seems like a bit of a balancing act. I don’t want to feed into the Monty Haul trope of showering PCs with all sorts of wild stuff that allows them to just roll over challenges. But at the same time, even in thematically low-magic settings, I believe that the PCs should be considered heroes and different from the non-adventuring NPCs in the world. And along with the extraordinary class abilities they acquire, I think part of what makes them special is the discovery of magic items. What I didn’t do, other than the relic in Chapter 3 of my adventure, was give specific names to the magic items in the vein of Excalibur or Callandor (from the Wheel of Time series). Offering the PCs opportunities to possess a few of these unique items early on builds on the sense of playing in a fantastic world where they have the potential to accomplish great things, which is what I love about D&D.
There is the opportunity here for the party to pick up an NPC helper during the adventure. What was your thought process about including this NPC? Was it to help balance out low level combat, or as a way for DMs to provide extra guidance to the characters?
Daina the tavern keeper’s daughter can certainly be useful in both of those roles (and when I played the adventure with my family, having a fourth character in the party ended up being helpful for them in combat!). I like reading and playing adventures in which there is an NPC that may connect with the party, possibly becoming part of the group. Hopefully the players see how their actions are perceived by the NPC, and I think it also helps them connect with the setting by providing that relationship with somebody living in the area in which the PCs are adventuring.
Finally, you’ve included a lot of plot hooks for future adventures, and I really love the appendix at the end which provides different organisations that can flesh out the world. It’s really great for someone that plays the adventure and wants to expand it into a campaign. Can we expect more adventures in this world that you’ve started to flesh out?
I hope so! The appendix offers some info about the lore that I’ve developed for the region. I have a few additional adventure ideas outlined for the “starter area” associated with the regional map in No News From Nerlin, including some that follow up on the adventure leads offered in the conclusion.
Is there anything else you would like to add before we finish?
I really can’t say enough about how helpful the RPG Writer Workshop’s Write Your First Adventure course was for me in actually taking those first steps to actually write and publish a D&D adventure. It’s been a long-standing personal goal to create something original for publication, and I finally took the initiative this year to accomplish that goal. I don’t think it would have happened without the structure of the course and the support of the community!
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,