Invasion of the Tuber Dudes (OSR) (priority review)
Invasion of the Tuber Dudes (OSR)
This review was prioritized at the request of my supporters.
This module clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page playtester thanks, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look.
This module was designed for Old-School Essentials as the target rules-system, with the module intended to be used for first-level characters, either as a one-shot, or as a kick-off for a new campaign.
And yes, theme-wise, this is WEIRD; one could call it gonzo, but the module does not engage in the all-too-common “Look at me, I’m topical/reference pop-culture”-shenanigans that so many comparable modules dubbed “gonzo” engage in. The adventure is actually pretty darn serious, one could even say grim. In many ways, this did remind me of the Dark Tower-series; there is a certain melancholy in the set-up that is contrasted successfully (!!!) with the utterly audacious concept you could read in the title. That is a feat indeed.
The module is set in the Sage Desert and feels steeped in Americana in its aesthetics, something also underlined by the public domain artwork that is used to supplement (successfully) the b/w line art by Luka Rejec. In many ways, this feels like a fantasy wild-west-y post-apocalyptic setting that never explicitly states its post-apocalyptic nature per se. The use of two particularly neat landscape-shots of the American wilderness also add to that…and made me really long for the landscape of the US.
Anyhow, structurally, it should be noted that the majority of this module is essentially a series of greater events that the referee needs to flesh out; this is closer to an adventure outline of a module than an actual ready to run adventure.
Personally, I didn’t need more, but for inexperienced referees, this might be a taller order. The GM should also prepare maps: There is a rudimentary map of one settlement herein (no scale, looks pretty bad, to be honest), and one b/w-map of a small dungeon of sorts (by Dyson Logos), but the complex’s map lacks a player-friendly version.
The final formal gripe I have with this pdf, and primary reason why I consider it to be a case for experienced referees only, would be its organization.
This is a rather chaotic supplement, and it is definitely required that you read the entire thing, take notes, etc.
In my instance, I had the module printed out, and a gust of wind blew the pages all around. I was in a hurry and didn’t look at the page numbers; I reorganized the pages and the module actually was easier to run/grasp, and when I looked at the pdf again, I was kinda surprised. This isn’t a module in the traditional sense; instead, it is a general, global situation, and then things are sketched out in a rudimentary way. This felt very “new school of adventure design”-y to me, because it structurally is: You *can* run this as written, but if you do, you’ll be running a lot of cutscenes, where linear things just happen, and player decisions are glossed over.
Ironically, one of the most important parts of the module seems to be a cut scene (haha), where the referee is left entirely hanging. If you expect regions prepared, sandboxes for the party to explore, a high degree of interactivity…well, this does not offer that. Instead, think of this is a plot-train, and a sketch of one at that. At one point, the direction of the train can be steered towards the two most likely outcomes, but the supplement requires copious amounts of fleshing out if your party wants to meaningfully engage with some aspects of the module and not just adventure through the most likely progression. Important for this type of module: No, the adventure does not prescribe what players do in read-aloud text (Thank Gygax!), but primarily because there is no such text presented anywhere. As noted before, one of the most important locales in the module actually is missing sufficient information to run it in a non-linear/non-railroad manner.
For a preliminary summary: This adventure is geared towards more experienced referees, particularly those accustomed to improvisation and fleshing out. That being said, I do think that the pdf is worth going through that hassle.
Okay, and that is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only referees around? Great! So, the scene is set in the Sage Desert, where evergreen trees cling to dormant volcanic peaks, with hot days and cold nights, gleaming rivers, etc. – the last of the post cities, Sun Radive, was once built as a fortified lumber town and former military installation, and as such has a 20 ft high and 20 ft. thick wall, an intersection of hot springs and a river. The town features only one-way roundabouts called circles, and there are circles 1-11, with circle 7 omitted due to its mystical meaning. Each circle gets a rudimentary 1-sentence description, and we do get 12 rumors. The town is depicted in the rather not-that-great map mentioned before, fyi.
The rulers of the city are the supremely-creepy Sisters of Clemency: Faith, Hope and Charity, who are all clerics, and all really creepy in that seemingly benign, but…well…creepy religious fundamentalist sort of way. Somewhat to my chagrin, they do have different Constitution values, but this doesn’t seem to be reflected in their HP, but that is a minor aesthetic choice. The sisters are actually one of the possible bosses of the adventure, and as such, are supplemented by a few unique spells: Candle blow has a low range and deals minor damage, but can permanently cause the loss of Charisma on a failed save. Summon lava golem does what it says on the tin, and oh boy will the party suffer if the sisters manage to cast that spell. Interesting: The golem uses dice themselves as hit points of sorts, and when hit, you just take a die and put it in the damage pool. Design-wise, the module is a bit opaque here: The next sentence states that “When it has 6 attack dice…”—that’s the first time “attack dice” are mentioned. This should read “When all its dice have been moved into the damage pool…” Further nitpick: A reference to dispel magic is not properly formatted in the spell. Volcanic storm creates a cloud of smoky heat that deals minor damage, but if you fail two consecutive saves, you pass out. Minor nitpick: This refers to the “player”—that should read “target” or “creature” in the parlance of B/X and its derived systems. Players are the people playing the characters.
That being said, the final spell? It can only be cast be the Sisters’ faithful henchman Jack…wish. As a fourth-level spell. Ouch…literally. Why? Well, there is a reason he’s called “Three-fingered Jack”: He carries a mini-guillotine, and to get the wish, he has to cut off a finger! Suffice to say, he can only do so three more times, but his wishes…well, let’s just say that the party should eliminate him quickly and decisively if they want to beat the sisters, preferably without him having a chance to use this wildcard…
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves: The module actually begins in Sun Radive, with a massive bounty on the head of the local warlord Jhadar Khale, an extremely deadly adversary who has amassed an army and who is particularly loathed for his propensity of taking pregnant women and babies…everyone else who wasn’t slaughtered in combat usually gets to free. The warlord’s background can be determined with a d8 roll, which does change things up a bit—I enjoyed that! The offer to hunt down the warlord also comes with the Sisters allowing the party to take a close look at their armory, which features various magic items of different potency: The Lawful Candle only burns chaotic beings; there is a potato that regrows daily as long as the skins are kept and a glove that allows the user to change hair color at will…but also an axe that casts silence 15’ radius when drawn, which can be deadly indeed! A character who wants one of these items has to submit to a gem being inserted in their neck—an insurance. If the item is not returned within 15 days, the gem will start killing the character slowly.
Once the party is equipped, they are off into the Sage Desert, those endless forests, and en route pass a couple of flavorful environments, with a river of particular note: Drinking from the river causes transformation into a new race-class, the Skellington, on a failed save. This reduces Charisma TO 1d4, grants 2d10 HP, and the Skellington is immune to the party’s cleric’s Turn Dead [sic!] (should be Turn Undead) and is forced into a dual class, keeping original abilities, but now leveling in the 10-level Skellington class. The 10th level is missing, unless that was supposed to be the level of the original class. These get 3d4 HD according to the text, but this seems to be incorrect when compared to the table. They have no allowed armor, but may use any melee weapon. Skellingtons can spend 1 minute and picking up a bone to restore 1d4 HP. They can tell jokes that cause all who hear them to get a -2 penalty to all saves, -1 to attacks, -1 to damage, or -3 HP. These do NOT have a save RAW, and they stack with each other. RAW, they also affect the entire party, so brace for different strategies for the party to attempt to block out the japes. Design-wise, making this targeted and having a saving throw would have been better. NPCs must make a morale check, and flee or attack them. The skellingtons are a good concept, but their execution/design is rushed and hurts the module more than it helps. I recommend skipping them.
Once the party reaches a canyon, they are ambushed by the eponymous tuber dudes, a force of 10 carrots led by one of the rare, spellcasting purple carrots named Tendril: This fellow demands that the party surrenders. Whether or not they comply, the party ultimately will have to face Jhadar…but how this happens is very much left up to the referee. The actual meeting, the operation of Jhadar’s army and the like are totally opaque. It’s a huge blank slate, and considering that the fellow is one of the 2 important factions, this struck me as extremely annoying. The players can’t devise a proper infiltration strategy, can’t wage a war of attrition, etc., because the module/outline lacks the information for the referee to properly improvise these aspects. It railroads the party, hardcore.
If the party is bested by the tuber dudes, they land in prison. As an aside: There is no “stun damage”; that’s supposed to be subdual damage in OSE, B/X, etc.
If the purple carrot has been killed, he’ll be furious, locking up the party…and if the party surrendered or was knocked out, the paths coalesce once more. At this point, the module has a bit of a break and provides a brief one-page summary of the 10 tuber dudes types: Jicima, for example, can heal.
Imprisoned, the party has a timer as they come to: They have d4+1 minutes real time to break a lock, represented by a handout type square with bands of letters; you have to find the words below to break the lock. Really like this! On a failure, the party will lose d4 HP from hunger and thirst. This gets two thumbs up! The complex of the dudes is the aforementioned dungeon; it’s essentially a very sketch-like one-page prison-break; apart from the cool cell-door puzzle, nothing to really write home about. Worse: After the brief dungeon, the whole camp/Army has progressed to besieging the city, I guess. No timeline, no environment, no information on the vicinity, nothing. Everything outside the dungeon pertaining to the tuber dude operation is a huge, amorphous blob of “Don’t know”. It is here that the module starts feeling like a half-finished draft that was abandoned mid-writing.
And here we are at the point where the referee has to really start building/expanding. You see, the 3 Sisters have this Baby, which may or may not be an antichrist-like doomsday figure; Jhadar Khale certainly believes that the Sisters plan on using the child to wreak untold destruction upon the land…so he marches on Sun Radive with his army of tuber dudes.
The siege itself is sketch-like, and comes with a brief table of 10 random things that can happen to the party while getting into the city, and there are 6 rudimentary random encounters. The embedded gems from the sisters can be an asset of sorts: The Sisters’ observatory is defended by a variety of curses (d20 table included), and the gems protect against that…but impede attacks on the sisters, so there’s that…
But whom to eliminate? Jhadar? The Sisters? Both? Certainly, neither of the two factions are nice people, and the fate of the destined child needs to be ascertained. Sun Radive’s supposed to be right in the middle of a war, but that aspect is pretty much cut-scene’d through, so I recommend expanding it as well.
The module then provides some considerations for continuing the adventure, and then the Tuber Dude racial class—while the module sports no option to play one, parties allied with Jhadar might well get one. One can only play 6 types of tuber: Carrots, purple carrots, beet, crosne, mandrake and jicama. Tuber Dudes require Strength and Constitution of 10 or higher, use Strength as Prime Requisite, have d8 HD, 10 maximum levels and may use all weapons, but no armor. The dude-type determines more: Carrots get +1 to hit and damage with polearms and have the XP- and Save-progression of a fighter; purple carrots have +1 to hit and gain 1 spell (which list? which level? I *assume* elf, but it doesn’t clarify that…) each level and progress XP and saves as an elf. Beet have saves and XP of dwarves, and d12 HD. Crosne have XP and saves of thieves and get a “really cool vest with sequins”. Mandrakes use XP and saves of magic suers and begin play with Speak with Plants. (Incorrectly formatted.) Jicima get the progression and saves of a cleric, but cast Cure Light Wounds 3/day. You also roll 3d6: Once for a weapon, once for a personal quirk (which may be +1 to AC, to hit, infravision, etc.), and once for a bonus – like said vest, a gangly potato horse, etc. The concepts here are cool, but e.g. the onion-based tear-grenades fail to state their area of effect.
Tuber dudes can hide as a thief of their level in forests and verdant locales, and unarmed tuber dudes can, if they win individual initiative, grapple an opponent on a successful hit, potentially briefly incapacitating the opponent. Insects and vermin can be a save-r-die situation for them, but they live off photosynthesis. They can bury themselves in earth to heal faster, but have a short lifespan.
The tuber dude class is better designed than the skellington, but know what they’re missing? A frickin’ THAC0. I assume that they use the one of the classes whose saves and XP they use, but the class does not state this anywhere.
Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level; the deviations from OSE’s standards are quite numerous for such a brief module. On a rules-language level, the module is a bit of a mess, particularly regarding the new race-classes, which are not really operational. The pdf has an orange-y background with some cacti on the borders. I generally enjoyed this aesthetically, but it does make the pdf a bit of a drain on the printer. Since the maps are b/w, and since Luka Rejec’s neat artworks are also b/w, they do clash with the remainder of the module – in a way that was kinda unpleasant for me. This would have been better off with a more unified aesthetic. The pdf has bookmarks…one for the first page, and one for the second page…really? This is a comfort-detriment.
By all accounts, I should hate Ahimsa Kerp’s “Invasion of the Tuber Dudes”; while the concepts herein and the set-up remain genuinely amazing and manage to evoke a unique atmosphere, the rules, the design…are just sloppy. This extends to aspects like the lack of bookmarks. Some of the deviations in formatting (which are inconsistent, just fyi – they are NOT intentional) are annoying, but the rules language? Particularly when contrasted with Gavin Norman’s precise and faithful rendition and expansion of the B/X-rules, this hurts to see.
And there is the fact that this “module” isn’t really a module, but instead a kind of event-outline with rudimentary scene-sketches that glosses over one of the most important aspects/scenes of the entire book also is JARRING. It’s a huge hole smack in the middle of the module.
And yet, this has something going for it; a unique atmosphere; a creative vision. One that was abandoned halfway through designing, sure, but damn, do I love the concepts that made it here. As a person, I appreciate this framework and nuanced villains. Ahimsa Kerp has vision…I just wish they had finished the adventure.
But as a reviewer, I can’t look past the structural issues, the rules issues, the unnecessary accumulation of glitches. Know what this is? A great pitch. If this were sent to me as a pitch for a bigger module to develop? I’d jump on that and tell the author to properly develop that, to flesh it out, make it shine, and watch the rules formatting and rules integrity.
…but it’s not. This was advertised as a module, and it is NOT a finished module. Nor is it a sandbox-style adventure. It’s an OUTLINE. Not more.
This is a rough one, it’s neither finished, nor as detailed as it should be, but it has enough of a personality and identity to make it worthwhile. The low price as a gesture is nice, but not sufficient to make me increase my rating and round up from my final verdict of 2.5 stars.
IF, and only if you want to expand the scenario, fill out the HUGE blanks, then this can be a unique and memorable start for a campaign; this might be up to 3.5 stars for you. But you’ll have to do the lion’s share of the work and deal with the problematic rules components. If you’re not willing to do that, then consider this to be a 2-stars-file at best.
You can get this adventure (-outline) here on OBS!
If you considered this review to be useful, consider leaving a donation, or joining my patreon. Thank you!