Adventure Review: Withering Woods

“Withering Woods” is a D&D 5e adventure module for low-level characters written by Þorsteinn Mar Gunnlaugsson for Swedish game publisher, Riotminds. Part of their new Fantasy Adventure Series, it was included in their Kickstarter for Into the Wild, a wilderness exploration supplement for 5e. Based upon their current DriveThruRPG offerings, I would imagine this will eventually be available for purchase there. It may still be available for late pledges here.

Here’s my non-spoiler review (more for GMs later!). I really enjoyed reading Withering Woods and could see myself running the adventure with some modifications. The module focuses on the village of Shallowford, surrounded on all sides by a majestic wood called the Cobweb Forest (not foreboding at all!). Shallowford is a haven for rangers, druids, and wilderness adventurers of all sorts. As players get to know the NPCs in town, they soon learn of strange events that may (or may not) be connected. The investigation begins…and will inevitably lead into the depths of the forest.

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GaryCon XVI Retrospective: Days 0-1

Since I’ve returned home to South Louisiana, I’ve had no shortage of friends asking, “Now what were you doing in Wisconsin?” So to simplify those conversations–and for other gaming enthusiasts who are interested in GaryCon–I thought it might be helpful to make a few posts recapping each day of my trip to Lake Geneva, WI to attend GaryCon.

What is GaryCon? And what is a roleplaying game?

GaryCon is an annual gathering in honor of Gary Gygax, who passed away on March 8, 2004. Gary was one of the co-authors (with Dave Arneson) of the roleplaying game, Dungeons & Dragons. If you don’t know what roleplaying games are, it’s a cross between collaborative storytelling and make-believe. Ordinarily 4 or more players sit at a table together, each pretending to fill the role of a character and facing challenges and puzzles together. Often, it’s a swords-and-sorcery fantasy game. Sometimes it isn’t. Regardless, Gary Gygax is the most widely recognized progenitor of this type of game.

Since Gary’s passing, his family has held this memorial convention in his hometown (Lake Geneva, WI) each year. And what happens? Gamers from the world over gather and play games in Gary’s honor. Roleplaying games are the most played. But there are also board games, wargames, card games, and even live-action roleplaying (LARP). I grew up playing board games, even into college and seminary. But I never experienced roleplaying games until I moved in Louisiana in 2011. Since then, roleplaying games have become a constant hobby of mine, playing in person in St. Tammany and online with friends and family.

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X1 – The Isle of Dread

The Isle of Dread may be the best adventure module I’ve ever read.

Don’t get me wrong. I love, love, love The Village of Hommlet. Against the Cult of the Reptile God is a gem. The Tomb of Horrors and Ravenloft stand the test of time. And despite my penchant for old-school modules, I’m no edition snob. Merrick Blackmon’s The Witch of Underwillow is fantastic for 5e. And, of course, I’ve never met someone who didn’t love The Lost Mine of Phandelver from the 5e Starter Box.

Still, The Isle of Dread might be the best that I’ve read.

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Review: A0 – Danger at Darkshelf Quarry

When Against the Cult of the Reptile God sparked ongoing interest with two of my players in AD&D, I decided to take a whack at an ongoing campaign in that region of Greyhawk.  While I wasn’t interested in plowing straight through the Slave Lords series, one module stood out to me as interesting: A0 – Danger at Darkshelf Quarry.

Published in 2015, this module functioned to introduce the Against the Slave Lords series for its WotC hardback reprint (pdf available here).  It was written by Skip Williams, who playtested the original A1-4 series.  An appropriate author for an homage to this classic series of tournament modules.

Now you may be surprised to hear me make reference to “tournament modules.”  While there are currently D&D Adventurers’ League adventures written for conventions, they’re still not tournaments.  How could you have a D&D tournament?  Well A1-4 actually spells it out for you very clearly.  The basic gist was this: there were 3-4 consecutive dungeon crawls.  The best players (the ones who survived) made it to the next session in the tournament, until the final round was only the best of the best.

The result is that these modules are basically a dungeon without a story.  In homage to them, Danger at Darkshelf Quarry is light on story and heavy on dungeon.  But again, I’m learning that AD&D authors really expected DMs to take modules and make them their own…which I did (more on that soon).  So without further adieu, here’s my rating and review of Danger at Darkshelf Quarry:

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Darlene, Greyhawk, and the Rabbit Hole

Who knew that a map could stir the imagination so much?  And yet the map released in the Greyhawk setting box has been the fundamental basis for my ongoing AD&D campaign.  Sure, I’m taking my players through published modules–but my starting point with every game has been this map.

At first glimpse, this map by Darlene might not seem all that impressive.  But then you start to look at the details.  For example, what’s going on with these Bandit Kingdoms just north of the Nyr Dyv?  Seems like an interesting place to visit!  And what about the lands of the Snow, Frost, and Ice Barbarians in the Northeast?  I mean, why can’t they just all live together?  And the Sea of Dust in the Southwest is just begging for some kind of nomadic warlord!

What’s neat about the Greyhawk Fantasy Setting box is that there’s just enough details to get the creative juices flowing.  Almost no areas are spelled out beyond a few simple details.  It’s up to the DM and the players to evolve and create each area.  In fact, that’s how I ended up making my own brief homebrew adventure for my players!

Here’s my point: I think you would benefit by choosing (or creating) a map such as this one for your starting point.  There are piles of maps available out there for free and for a minimal fee.  Just Google maps of the Sword Coast, the Forgotten Realms, or simply “D&D map.”  You’ll be astonished how many awesome maps are out there for your use!  Here’s how it’s impacting my DMing:

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The challenge and beauty of AD&D modules

After over a year of playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (first edition), I’ve had some really great gaming moments.  But I’ve also had to deal with reality.  Eventually nostalgia wears off and you realize why there were later editions of D&D.  Now don’t get me wrong!  AD&D is proving to be my favorite RPG!  But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some challenges along the way.

When it comes to AD&D modules, I’ve realized one distinct challenge paralleled by a remarkable beauty.  The challenge is this: AD&D modules are very dense.  They are (by and large) not easy to read.  Meanwhile I picked up Storm King’s Thunder for fifth edition and it was like reading a novel!  Not so with AD&D modules.  I’ve tried to read them “for fun” and it’s often not fun.  I read them, because I want to play the game.  As a DM, it’s the work I put in to have a successful, enjoyable gaming experience.  But I won’t call reading them fun.  That said, I did cackle with evil glee while reading Tomb of Horrors.  More on that next week…

That’s the challenge.  Just getting through them takes time and real focus.  But!  There’s one thing that I find consistently effective and beautiful in these modules–and it flows from their density!  It’s this: AD&D modules cultivate “living” settings that players can expand and own.  Many modern modules do the same thing, but I think we can learn a lot from these OSR modules and how they create living settings that allow players to shape them and make them their own.

As a GM, I know that you want to have a vibrant, engaging setting for your players to enjoy.  But where to start?  Creating a compelling setting is hard.  Trust me, I know!  My players have visited plenty of non-descript vanilla villages throughout their years of adventure.  But things have changed in my AD&D experience.  My players are now wanting their characters to take up residence in a local village, shaping it into their own place.  Where did that come from?  I’m convinced it’s one of the strengths of these AD&D modules.

Thus, regardless of what game system you’re playing, I think you can benefit from picking up one of these OSR modules and giving it a read.  Here’s how you can get the benefit out of them:

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Review: N1 – Against the Cult of the Reptile God

I thought my readers might be interested in more direct reviews of published modules, since I’m running those almost exclusively in my home AD&D game.  Since I stopped blogging just as I was wrapping up this module, I thought it would be an excellent one to start with: Dungeon Module N1 – Against the Cult of the Reptile God.

So why did I decide to run this module as my second adventure in Chasing the Dragon, especially when I’ve been so hot to trot for Gygax?

Well, for starters, you recommended it!  That is, my Twitter followers took a poll and this was the winner for the classic adventure to run.  Second, I really liked that the N-series was aimed at novice players and DMs (more on that later).  Third, it felt similar enough to The Village of Hommlet, which I ran last year, to not feel totally overwhelming to a new AD&D DM.

I read some reviews online, sneaked a peak at a bootleg pdf online, then took the plunge on eBay and DriveThruRPG.  It’s true…I like a hard copy and a pdf on hand.  So how did it fare when it came to actual gameplay?

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Chasing the Dragon: Progress Report!

Well, well, well…look who the cat dragged in!  That’s right, your old digital pal, the Mad Cleric.  And what exactly have I been doing?  Well, I’ll show you before I tell you:

A little bit of this…

A little bit of that…

Oh, and of course, some…

That’s right, I may be the only person to have logged plays of Chutes & Ladders on (my games are logged here).  I’d apologize for not blogging, but I really have been busy with very important things.  Between our third child’s birth and moving, I’ve been lucky to fit in any gaming–let alone blog about it!  But on this Thanksgiving break, I’m glad to find a little extra time to fill in all my online gaming friends on my recent shenanigans.

So, here for the first time in six months, my friends, is my progress report on Chasing the Dragon:

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Are you a responsible gamer?


You and I know the gamer stereotypes that are out there.  And you know the one that you’re dangerously close to being!

Me?  I’m the obsessive gamer type, who goes crazy over a game (usually for a short season) but eventually burns out and moves on to another.  AD&D has been a rare long-standing muse for me!

Regardless of which stereotype fits you most closely, I think we can be a part of creating a new stereotype: that of the responsible gamer.  You know, the person who is deeply engaged with the people around them–who does good, creative, life-affirming work–who lives with purpose and vivacity–and also really loves games.  That’s who I want to be.  But is that possible?

It’s a question I’ve asked before: does growing up mean giving up gaming?  There’s a tension between responsibility and play in our culture, as though you can’t be responsible and still engage  imagination and fun.  Well, I call shenanigans.  How can I do that?  Because I think I’m pulling it off fairly well.  And here’s how you can do it too:

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I’m not giving up.


Just wanted to pop in and give a quick update on my journey through AD&D, Chasing the Dragon.  As a few of you know, family life has gotten complex with a third baby due in June!  So between that and work, I’m having to prioritize my free time.  So what does that mean for Chasing the Dragon?

First, the online AD&D group that I’m GMing is still waging war against the Cult of the Reptile God!  I anticipate that group to continue for another four sessions or so.

Second, after baby is born, I’m hoping to start another local AD&D group.  I’m not sure whether I’ll be GMing or playing, nor am I sure which module we’ll be traversing.  But it’s in the works.

Third, as far as is concerned, I’m going to give myself the freedom to post more sporadically.  The video blog method seems less time-intensive at present, so I may use that as a more primary method of communicating.  That said, I’m going to make an effort to be more present on Twitter to interact on all things AD&D and gaming.

While this post is (understandably) short and (unfortunately) focused on what I’m doing.  I hope it will encourage you to stop and take inventory of your gaming life.  Are you making sure that most important things in life are being taken care of?  There’s nothing wrong with dialing the gaming back just a bit for a season.  We take short breaks, so that we can fully engage again in the near future.

Thanks for your patience with me.  And I look forward to chatting with you all soon.  If you don’t follow me on Twitter yet, make it happen!


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