Those Dam Goblins! (Revised Edition) (OSR/5e)
This adventure clocks in at 38 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, 2 pages Land of Lunacy character sheet (one OSR, one 5e), leaving us with 32 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was requested by my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience. While the module does have ties to the Lands of Lunacy meta-setting/template, you do not need aforementioned supplement to run this – these ties are very subdued and tenuous at best. The review is based on the pdf. I do not own the print version.
Before I get ahead, I should note that one character is depicted in the character sheet, taking up a page – this was done only in the OSR-version. The 5e-version is in the file per se, which is weird. The final page of the module is taken up by a goblin song, which was a nice touch as far as I’m concerned.
To address the elephant in the room: This is a dual-format pdf, which means I have to rate it in its entirety, as for how valid it is for both OSR, and for 5e. This also means that half of the rules-relevant content will be superfluous for all customers. I am a big opponent of dual-system files, as they are inherently customer unfriendly, and if e.g. one version is much better than the other, it makes rating the entire book harder. This is not the case here, as you’ll see.
Genre-wise and regarding its aesthetics, this is perhaps closest to early Forgotten Realms; it doesn’t have the Greyhawk-grit, is what I’m trying to say.
As far as rules are concerned, the module seems to be based, OSR-system-wise, on Labyrinth Lord. 5e-rules are provided in brackets, and there is read-aloud text provided, though not a copious amount. The module is designated as suitable for 4-6 characters of 1st to 3rd level, and while that might work for BECMI and B/X-derived rules sets, this does not hold true for 5e. 2nd level characters will have too easy a time (for the most part), while 3rd level characters will curbstomp the opposition to kingdom come day before they have even finished their breakfast.
Okay, so the following is an adventure-review, so here come the SPOILERS. Potential players should…
I can’t do it.
I seriously can’t.
I will not divorce mechanics from content, and frankly, you should be aware of the issues this has, and I’m not going to dignify this with a properly enunciated spoiler-warning.
The story is per se a pretty simple: A few years ago, human settlers discovered a marshy plain, and proceeded to dry it with the help of a dam. This, alas, displaced goblins – somewhat like the metaplot of Expeditious Retreat’s “Stonepick Crossing”, just minus the settlement actually being in the damn, and thus, interesting. The human leader is Stroh Larhley, and he promises some rewards – 4 magic items, none of which have been properly adjusted to 5e, and they are not interesting either. Don’t believe me? 10% bonus to clerical turning checks against undead. Oh boy. A dagger that “emits light on command.” Oh boy. It should be noted that both magic items and spells are persistently not properly formatted throughout the module.
If you’re a fan of DCC, you’ll have guessed the name of the antagonist: Curtis. Curtis Mileach. There is also an optional encounter with Di-Zimm, and Brensalle. (This one was contributed by Bob Brinkman, and is BY FAR the best thing about this book – it’s an albino goblin outcast with a massive ferret, who is actually friends with some kids…but also paranoid. There is a chance for a genuinely nice trip through the pair’s labyrinthine warrens, with the resolution and how it goes mostly contingent on player-skill.) This encounter has nothing to bear on the module’s actual plot, but it’s where some joy was found for me, so thank you. Mr. Brinkman. The artwork for the pair is also stunning.
…okay, in case you didn’t get it, the names are thinly-veiled anagrams of Harley Stroh and Michael Curtis, and evoking these two titans of adventure-writing made me wish VERY HARD I was running one of their adventures instead. Heck, same goes for Brendan LaSalle and the rest of the DCC-crew. Homage is fine and something I generally enjoy, but putting such a reference front and center means that you should at least attempt to live up to the referenced material. This is not the case here.
But back to the main plot: Curtis Mileach was corrupted by an item from the Lands of Lunacy, and now guides the goblins in a bid to blow up the dam. The goblins have a backup plan, and have tainted the human water supply. There is no proper way to notice this, since the village isn’t properly depicted. Not even means to notice tracks, etc. In 5e, one would assume that a village with a mid-to high-level caster would purify food if people got sick, but I digress. This boils down to a lackluster “it’s not over yet” final encounter…that never comes. See below. However, even if, due to you fixing the module, the PCs get here, you’ll notice that the hobgoblins involved here are missing their whole attack section of their statblocks.
En route to the damn, we have rot grubs, which are depicted in a way that is super hard to beat, in how it fails to grasp how 5e treats hazards. They are depicted as creatures, which makes no sense.
The main meat of the module is the dungeon of the goblins, where Mileach and his cronies have created the “infernal machine”, which spans 3 levels, with ropes and pulleys; one highlight here is a schematic of one door and the rope system through it – at this point, I once hoped for some awesome payoff. This machine can blow up the damn.
And this is where things become “fun”: The module can’t RAW be solved in either version. The first room of the machine notes that there’s a percentile chance for drowning everyone in the complex if you even TOUCH the machine. There’s also only a “25%” chance that characters can disarm the trap ONLY on this level. The second level notes that the machine can’t be disarmed here, only in the previous room. The third level of the machine also points to area 1…which means that the trap is a self-referential, kafkaesque nightmare that may never be properly disarmed, only activated via mechanics that make limited sense in one, and no sense in the other of the designated systems. It immediately flooding the complex and drowning everybody is also a Schrödinger-scenario, as another room notes that it takes 6 rounds – so which is it?? Close-reading this self-contradictory mess literally gave me a migraine trying to understand it, only to realize that the module simply is sloppy and RAW not solvable.
Oh, and what about some fun save-or-die SLOWLY, but too fast to reach the village for a cure disease effects? Those are always fun, right? Fun fact: There is no such spell in 5e. Lesser restoration. The module also has one of these “fun” scenes, where the BBEG talks to the PCs, and casts essentially a suggestion-like spell while talking, without the PCs noticing. Why? How? Never explained, because that’d take effort or an actual understanding of the rules.
Speaking of effort: There are essentially magitech items (like a baton that deals additional damage due to being electrical) for the goblins, and no value ratings or the like are provided for them; their rules are at best boring in the OSR-version. In 5e, they’re a sloppy mess. This is particularly true for every single serious instance of 5e-rules-formatting: Things that are supposed to be bolded are not. A reaction is missing in its entirety. Things are lower case that shouldn’t be. Things are not in italics that should be.
Speaking of 5e: This pdf introduces LL’s initiative rules for encounters and for Turns in 5e. I kid you not. Turns…are RADICALLY different things in OSR-games and in 5e. In 5e, it’s your turn when you get to act. This bothered me to no end. It’s not all. The module proceeds to state something ballsy about this use of initiative, which is incompatible with how 5e operates.
“[T]his adventure is created with the intent of using the following order of events from older versions of the game. This approach may alter the balance and outcome in some 5E conversions of encounters. Some accommodation may need to be made on the fly by you, the Game Master, to maintain balance and a challenging game.“ (Those Dam Goblins, pg. 1)
Let me translate that into plain English for you:
“We want you to jam an initiative system in a half-baked manner into your game to make our dual format module work. We have no idea how, and don’t care that your game already has a perfectly functional one. We have called this a dual-format module, but we actually have no clue how one of the two systems this is advertised for, works. You may have purchased a module so you don’t have to do the hard work, but guess what? You’ll still have to do the balancing!”
If that doesn’t bode well: The OSR-stuff may be bad, but the 5e-rules are a whole new level of WTF. Things that should be saving throws are called checks instead. This sentence is designated as 5e-rules: “A successful Knowledge (Nature) or Knowledge (Healing) check [DC 15] reveals the benefit of the herbs.” This is NOT 5e!!! The module does not understand the difference between Perception and Investigation. Sometimes, the pdf calls it “INT save.” There is an instance where enemies auto-detect PCs unless they’re invisible, which contradicts how both systems work. The magitech items are utterly non-functional in some instances – glue never specifies whether it behaves as a melee or ranged weapon, or its ranges. Magic items lack scarcity ratings or gp-values.
If you’re playing 5e, you’ll also want to know that proper damage types are missing pretty MUCH EVERYWHERE. If it’s a trap, an item, or anything like that, expect to have some sort of issue with it.
And there is not a single correct 5e-statblock herein.
Not one. I went through all of them. From math not checking out to missing bits, to wrong HD to the omnipresent, atrocious formatting, they all have issues, many of which influence the integrity of the rules.
Editing and formatting are atrocious. On a formal level, there are glitches, but on a rules-level, this is genuinely BROKEN. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with really nice full-color and b/w-artworks, original pieces. These are the one good thing about this. The pdf has no bookmarks, which makes navigation of this mess annoying at best, and adds one last injury to this insulting clusterf***.
Christopher Clark’s module, expanded by Lloyd Metcalf and Bob Brinkman genuinely made me feel bad. Because I felt like a bully writing this review. Because, from the albino gobo hermit with his ferret to the idea per se, this has a good premise. It is, alas, a premise that has not been executed.
No, there is no “well” missing, because the frickin’ module can’t be solved in either system as written. I don’t object to the introduction of modern, tech-y items for the goblins, though that does limit the appeal a bit, it could have made this work. Heck, after the introduction/summary, I hoped for a cool, complex, perhaps even visual puzzle for the dam-busting machine! I mean, it’s master Metcalf – he could draw that! And the first room ahs this cool schematic illustrating how the rope goes through the door.
None of this goes anywhere.
I felt bad about not liking some Fail Squad Games modules, I felt bad about bashing some of them for their shortcomings, because I don’t like being negative. Because there always was this spark, this attention to detail, that showed that the authors cared. The skill might have been lacking from e.g. Marathon of Heroes, but the idea was good – if that module had been written for a system the authors actually understood, it could have been a fine romp! Roadside Respite may not be perfect, but there is some fun to be had with it. Brindlemarsh’s 5e-rules may be a mess, but at least the module is playable in OSRIC. The technical issues notwithstanding, there always is some minor saving grace in these adventures, and they usually feel like the author(s) cared.
I can claim none of these things about this frickin’ mess.
This module, right after Bob Brinkman’s conceptually nice sidetrek (If you can ignore the rules-issues), nosedived so hard, it genuinely pissed me off. I screamed at my printout.
This is EASILY the worst module I’ve reviewed since “The Verdant Vault of Malakum”, and unlike that cluster-f***, this ate much more pages. I’ll delete this pdf. After that, I’ll throw away the paper I used to print this.
This feels like the authors lost any interest to actually try making this work. This feels like a case of lost interest, of laziness, of something phoned-in. It doesn’t engender pure rage or outrage, it just left me feeling drained, disappointed and empty.
I have nothing to recommend here. 1 star. I’d give less, or 0 stars, if I could.
You can get this module here on OBS.
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