Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Blasphemous Brewery of Pilz!

I’m not usually one to write reviews. I mean, not real reviews: certainly I like to wax enthusiastic about things I dig and criticize the hell out of things I feel are a stinking, heaping pile. But that’s not really the same thing as a cool, calm, collected ‘review,’ right?

But people like to send me things to read and review. One of the perks of having a blog (and one of the reasons I feel responsible for trying to keep it up, even when I have a gazillion other “priority” things on my mind). Usually, I DO try to read the things I’m sent, but I’m not always able to get around to a review. For example, I still haven’t had a chance to write a review of the Swords of Destiny books, and those have been sitting on the shelf now for months.

This morning I had the opportunity to read the adventure module The Blasphemous Brewery of Pilz! while enjoying a semi-leisurely breakfast at the Baranof, a quiet moment I am savoring before I begin the grueling work of preparing for a two week stint in Mexico. In the past, such a trip would have been a piece o easy, as my wife and I are masters of packing light and we’d be on familiar turf (i.e. the wife’s home country), seeing friends and family and simply worrying how to get all the good eating in between relaxing siestas. This time, though, we are making the trip with an 11-month old child, and we’re bringing not only Christmas gifts and car seats, but also stuff for the kid’s birthday party (which we’ll be celebrating twice apparently).

There’s more I could whine about, but I’ll stop now.

The Blasphemous Brewery of Pilz! is an adventure by Dylan Hartwell, the Digital Orc, designed for use with Labyrinth Lord (kind of) and intended for characters level 3-7. I won’t bother providing the synopsis of the main scenario, but I do want to quote the second paragraph of the coverleaf/blurb:

The Blasephemous Brewery of Pilz! is written as both a stand-alone adventure and, if you take a liking to the town of Shattenburg and its locale, a rich source for subsequent adventures. Contained within are maps of the Pilz Monastery and region, background information, multiple adventure plots, a new spell, and new monsters.

My review pertains to that stuff, and what exactly you’re getting for three-dollar PDF.

The PDF is 17 pages, 2 pages of which are legalese OGL stuff. Of the other 15 pages, you’ve got a one page cover leaf and four pages of maps (one map to a page). Add it up and you have 10 pages of “adventure.”

I’ll cut to the chase:
the ten pages are worth the $3.

That’s my honest opinion, and it should be understood that I am fairly tight with my cash. Now, having got that part out of the way (whether or not it’s worth your money), I’ll get down to my less-than-rosy feelings on the thing.

Because, lest anyone misconstrue, I don’t necessarily think the adventure proper (the blasphemous brewery) is any great shakes or necessarily worth cash out of my pocket. As I said, I’m tight, and I can write my own adventures and I LIKE my own adventures, thank you very much. Which is to say, I have a fairly high idea of my own abilities in adventure writing, regardless of my PLAYERS’ feelings on the matter…my objective in writing adventures is to challenge, entertain, and amuse myself as much as the players, and I can do that.

No, I wouldn’t pay $3 for the main scenario, even though it has a nicely drawn map and a couple new (nicely illustrated) monsters. My as-yet-unpublished Toad God Temple is both cooler and fiercer, in my not-so-humble opinion.

But that’s not what you’re paying the three bucks for. The Blasphemous Brewery is actually a mini-campaign/sandbox…or rather, has the potential for one. You have a small region outlined with multiple points of interest, i.e. dungeons (the brewery is only one), a nice little home base (with potential intrigue and political problems), richly textured conflict/history (without pages and pages of leaden exposition)…enough material to provide a gaming group with a multi-month campaign and several levels worth of adventuring, providing the DM is slightly imaginative and interested enough to “run with the material.”

Personally, I’m pretty lazy and I can see ways to get at least three or four months (at least) out of this material. And I mean EASILY (which is key for a lazy DM)…this is an excellent example of how a fairly small amount of effort can yield large returns.

The way Hartwell accomplishes this is by having a tightly knit set of conflicts within the region and just enough adventure to provide challenges to several levels of characters without any kind of artificial, linear progression. I did say “sandbox” right?

So that’s what your three bucks buy you, and as I said it’s worth it to me…especially if you’re starting a new beginning campaign.

And by beginning, I DO mean "beginning." I don’t think 2nd level is too weak for the primary scenario, especially with a moderate sized group (4-6 PCs plus retainers), and even three to four PCs of levels 4th to 5th will stomp all over it without breaking a sweat.

Now the LATER adventures in the mini-campaign could use high level characters, but even 6th and 7th level characters seem too powerful for most everything in the book, except for the Ghemin Caves. Well, and the dragon, of course (though nothing says the dragon has to be a LARGE dragon).

But that’s part of the reason I wouldn’t pay more than $3 for the book; despite the nice premise and clever ideas in it (I think both new monsters are good, for example), it feels at times like Hartwell doesn’t know his stuff (by which I mean B/X and Labyrinth Lord). For instance, there’s a “level 8” elf spell in the game. Last I checked, the highest spell available to elves was level 5, so I’m not sure who exactly would be using it. However, as it’s simply a type of curse/forced reincarnation (and a non-permanent one at that), 8th level seems inappropriate anyway.

The book is also a bit disjointed (for my taste) in its presentation. We receive an introduction, then some of the stronger “optional” adventure sites, then specific NPCs, then new monsters, then the main scenario, followed by wandering encounters for the wilderness, and finally ideas for “further adventures.” The thing could do with a better layout…sticking all the random tables on a single page, or sticking new monsters and spells at the end in an easily found appendix would make it easier for a DM to use the book.

As I said, it’s only $3. But I’m not just being a “nit-picky;” it’s a pain in the ass to find things, considering only ten pages of content (fortunately, the illustrations are helpful for navigating). I’d advise a careful read the first-time through, as it’s pretty easy to miss things just “skimming” the book due to the lack of logical progression in presentation.

All right, that’s enough o the complaints. Here’s a summary of the highlights (from my perspective):
  • The magic artifact presented is perfect…I wouldn’t change a single thing about it as presented. Lots of campaign fodder, especially for a low-level (pre-Name) campaign.
  • The elven drama/conflict is also great. I would change the new spell (I’d probably just use a variation of reincarnation, or allow the elven ritual to help force the form instead of random assignment).
  • Both new monsters are excellent. The humanoids are great as a replacement for your standard troglodytes.
  • The Caves of Ghemin feel a little too deadly, but the idea behind the caves (their history, their powers, etc.) are nice…this is the kind of thing that makes a mini-sandbox like this work (a non-dungeon, site of interest that ties both to history and the current conflicts of the region).
  • The brewery scenario and its story are excellent, but again I’d judge it to be pretty weak for characters level 3-7. Also the rewards presented are much more fitting for low-level (1st through 3rd level characters). Personally, I would not list items value in “silver pieces;" otherwise, I wouldn't change anything about it, besides the suggested PC levels.
  • The town NPCs are all excellent. Shattenburg is just about right as a home base, nefarious intrigue site. Tasty without being over-detailed.
  • The wilderness map and region-specific wandering monster tables are good and also appropriate for low level characters (bigger monsters provide “teaching moments” in discretion being the better part of valor).
  • Any low level monster with (non-baby) dragon conflict is excellent. Good work.
  • Scalable conflict with a contextual basis (i.e. not an artificial “well this area is only open to 5th level characters” WoW-style). Dig it.
All right...gotta' get some stuff done. Later, folks.


  1. Thanks for the in depth review. Good luck with Xmas and a newborn. I'm prepping the carseat myself.

  2. Appealing sector of content. I mere learnt your weblog and in extension savings to state that I get indeed enjoyed account your post. Anyway I'll be signed upping to your feeds and even I accomplishment you access continually speedily.
    Buy Synthetic Turf