Review: Ice Kingdom Adventures (OSR)
Today I have another review for you! I do love being able to say that. This time it is an adventure two-fer, but it is also a bit of a special review. To start off the adventures have been designed to be played in OSR using a system like OSRIC or Labyrinth Lord. Specifically they are designed for the Ice Kingdoms campaign setting which was funded on Kickstarter last August. A key note here is that I have played relatively little old school D&D. In fact AD&D is the extent to which I have played and I have not yet tried any of the OSR stuff out there. Still, Mad Martian Games is hoping to create versions for 5th Edition, 3rd Edition, and Pathfinder and that is of great interest to me. As a result I was keen to look in on these adventures. My goal is a little different today than usual, though. In this review a big part of my focus will not be in how well they work with OSR rules but in how easily adaptable they are for those of you playing a different d20-based system. That being said, let’s get into the review!
This adventure is designed for a group of level one adventurers and comprises only 16 pages. Despite its small size, this is the type of adventure that I really prefer: small, compact, fits into other stories without too much modification. The target for this adventure is a new group of players. Not necessarily newbies, mind you, but a new start with new characters. In it is the assumption that you are part of a crew with the goal of raiding an island monastery. You also have a specific set of gear provided to you as a raider. It provides a nice, basic set piece for why you might be together, what your goals are, and exactly what you are doing. It is a great way to set up a campaign and it involves some interesting encounters. Included are not just combat encounters, but also things you might deal with making your way to the island, anywhere from weather to ghost ships. Now these might extend the time it takes to finish the adventure but they are also not required for the it. Best of all, this adventure is available for PWYW and makes a great way to start your Ice Kingdom campaign should you get the setting book!
Much lengthier than the previous adventure, this one sits in at 48 pages and has a more robust location for the adventure. Although I love the one session adventures, especially starting out, this provides a fantastic second option. The Girl With The Demon Tattoos is designed for a group of level one or two adventurers, giving you a little more flexibility. It’s length also gives you room to play out a few sessions and develop yourselves within a certain area and with a certain group of people. The meat of this adventure can be broken up into three basic parts: locations and characters, scenes, and stats. One of the reasons this is a good adventure to work from is that it provides you the town of Tenebrous, a temple, a location called the Fields of Woe, and a demon-infested keep. Frankly, there is a decent amount of stuff to utilize if you ignore the adventure, especially considering how many stat blocks are sitting in the back. As for the adventure itself, those are the scenes and, because this was designed to be open ended and loose, it provides a nice backbone from which to play the start of a campaign. The scenes are provided in ways such that there are a few important things, but little in way of requirements. One proceeds from the other, of course, but other than that the requirements are essentially that the PCs be there and learn of certain things. Time can be taken away from the adventure for others without any worry. There is also a good deal of suggestions for the GM considering how you play things out, what you must be sure to do, and what you can ignore. All in all, a lot of thought seems to have gone into making the GM’s life as easy as possible. Gods know the players won’t!
Content, Design, And Layout
I have already covered much of the content in the run-downs of these two adventures. Still there are some notes that should be made for it. First of all, these both contain a good deal of tables for things like random encounters. NPCs have their own little stat blocks and monsters have fleshed out stat blocks at the end of the book. There is plenty of art to work and it is a well-done black and white style. Additionally, there are sidebars for you to utilize covering things like Ice Kingdoms setting specifics and suggestions on what to do when players aren’t drawn to the story. Another piece that you might miss on the first flip though is a read-aloud text box. These are not very well differentiated from the sidebars, for one. That isn’t too huge a problem, moving slowly and the content are easy enough ways to tell them apart if you miss the different shape and shading. The problem I would say with them, however, is how few there are. For an adventure that relies, not on room to room adventuring, but instead on specific scenes, I would have really liked to see a few more. In fact, there really isn’t much point in the one that is included, given the lack of others.
The maps are well done and in The Girl With The Demon Tattoos, there are numbers and letters labeling them. The numbers to relate to various simple locations like a cell or tower, while the letters are the more prominent locations that have larger descriptions for the GM. I like this. It cuts down on space taken up by room to room descriptions as well as page flipping. It was a smart thing to do. What I don’t like is that the maps within The Temple Of Drawoh Rock have no such labels. The various areas and rooms are labeled with letters in the same design as the other adventure, but I am left to guess where they are in the catacombs of the temple. Another note on that are the two areas are not included in the map for the temple, but relegated to the end of the adventure. Their location immediately connecting to the main floor of the temple gives me reason to see their note closer to that.
I do like the layout that Mad Martian games has, though. The main font is good and the styled heading font isn’t unreadable. Tables are readable and neat. Proper items are in bold to be more noticeable and differentiating in tight stat blocks. I even like the feel of the title and image that sits at the top of each page, though those could be a bit smaller. I don’t know how beneficial a size change would be to page count reduction, but the thought occurred to me. More problematic than that is the space for the header appears on chapter title pages. The two together probably seems a bit much, if I had to guess, but this layout creates a lot of negative, usable space on those pages. All in all things look great, but there a few changes that should be made in revised versions (give me letters for the catacomb map!) to really make the products look great and work well in printed form.
I saved this part for last because it is an anomaly for my usual reviews. My goal is less review here and more suggestion, both for those who might want to use it and for the folks at Mad Martian Games looking to adapt their works. Let’s start with GMs, because they may already have it in their hands or they may be put off from the product because it isn’t in their system of choice. For you the task of conversion will be a bit of work. Luckily, that work is not an actual mathematical conversion of each and every thing in the game. What it will be though, is a process of assessment for what you need. For these two adventures, stat blocks can be lifted right out of your core monster manual. Imps, skeletons, zombies, and other basic creatures feature here and remain the troublesome creatures they are meant to be for low level characters of virtually any system. There are some things that you will want to watch though. Demons from The Girl With The Demon Tattoos can be very dangerous if you use the ones in the Monster Manual and ignore the way they are meant to work with the story. Be careful and plan accordingly. As for some of the random creatures, like tentacles, these are well detailed and there is plenty of info for an experienced DM to roll them off the cuff in D&D. Other than monsters there is little to get in your way. Things are very descriptive and open-feeling, allowing you to utilize whatever rules you need from your system for whatever the characters try to do. Still, it benefits the DM of newer versions of D&D to take their time and make some notes for prep.
For the folks at Mad Martian, I would say that things are actually a lot easier. In a way at least, but it will take a good amount of effort. Any given GM might have any given rule set to work with. They will have specific groups they need to prepare for and they have different adapting strengths and weaknesses. The publisher, however, knows exactly what their intent was and will have a base assumption to work with in design terms. Where the DM at home must take care to look at their rule set and make conversions, making a 5E-Compatible (for example) version of this is nice and specific. My suggestion is going to be to highlight everything in the current version that is mechanical. Mostly this ill be stat blocks but it will also be references like “-10% on lock picking” that don’t correspond with D&D. From there replace them one by one. With OGLs for 3E, Pathfinder, and 5E a lot of stat blocks can be simple replacements. Some creatures you will have to build stat blocks, of course. NPCs will need different stats mentioned and if there are poisons or the like in your adventures you will need to work on those.
What I see to be your biggest obstacle may be the setting book, as there are races and classes in there. Personally, I think that these adventures are well done and open enough to allow conversions. They aren’t laced with system specific mechanics and problems, but by descriptive obstacles. It looks as if you have written them with the intent to require as little conversion work as possible and that is great! I would definitely suggest including versions of those to the other systems sooner than later. These two, especially, are good ways to introduce players to your world and what to expect without needing them to have the campaign book. Sure, they may not be written with the intent for dragonborn paladins and tiefling sorcerers to run through, but they would certainly fit there well with little altering.
When it comes down to it, these are good adventures. While designed for OSR they can readily be adapted, as is, by experienced DMs for other systems. While burdened by a few design elements, these adventures are well worth checking out and using at your table. I look forward to the day when their setting and these adventures are adapted to 5E and I may even use one of these during one of my campaigns soon!