An Endzeitgeist.com review
This first installment of the Brindle-series clocks in at 34 pages if you disregard front cover, editorial, etc. I noticed that neither iteration of the adventure features an SRD, but that just as an aside. Important for the purpose of this review: I own the perfect-bound print softcover of the OSR-version, and the pdf of the 5e-version; I assume that the properties of one version hold true for the other and vice versa.
The difficulty of the module is very much contingent on how good the players are in old-school thinking, i.e. unconventional problem-solving of potential combat scenarios. Groups unaccustomed to that way of tackling a module may die the death of a thousand cuts, while those that are experienced in such thinking may have a very easy module on their hands. This is designated as a module for 3-5 PCs of 2nd – 3rd level, but I first level PCs can easily succeed here as well – they just need to be a tad bit more careful. It should be noted that the 5e-version does explain some basics like “unbalanced CR” to 5e-GMs new to the old-school style of playing, which is a plus.
Theme-wise, this, although not explicitly designated as such, works as a pretty neat Halloween or Thanksgiving module, depending on the emphasis you place here, and in fact, depending on your GM-style and what you emphasize and/or leave out, would actually work in equal parts well for adults and kids, with my recommendation being ages 8+, but since all kids are different, I trust in your discretion there. Anyhow, this recommendation stems from one thing being palpably absent from this module: Cynicism. This is a rather wholesome and even funny adventure, and a specific plot-point would actually prime this for being easily adapted in Pathfinder’s Second edition, but that as an aside to which I’ll return later.
The rules material herein includes 2 custom spells and a cantrip provided in a statblock of the BBEG, one of which is a better variant of magic mouth that should probably be situated at a higher level. These have in common that they highlight a total disregard for how spell-formatting works in 5e, rendering them essentially inoperational as written. Speaking of ignorance re 5e: What about a magic item that references Pathfinder creature types? Even something as simple as getting advantage on Strength (Athletics) checks made to climb is botched. Creature features in statblocks are bolded, but not in italics, which is odd, considering that the Actions tend to be correctly formatted. Bolded sections like “Senses” are not bolded properly, and the statblocks sometimes use the proper full-stop, sometimes a colon – no rhyme or reason there. That being said, at least average damage values etc. tend to be correct – for the most time. I encountered errors there as well. Weird: One statblock lists a proficiency bonus (usually not done), and has underlined Actions and Reactions listed. On the plus-side, the statblocks get damage types right and are nowhere near as bad as some earlier offerings by Fail Squad Games for 5e – you can run these. Still, even a cursory glance will confront you with formal glitches galore. The BBEG has their challenge entry in the wrong line AND a second, wrong challenge entry, as well as a wrong passive Perception value – should be 10, not 8. Climbing speed is not properly noted. And yes, I could continue doing that for a whole page. IT’s an improvement, but not nearly enough.
Both of the spells have been formatted improperly as well; and indeed, formatting is not good throughout – instead of putting spells in italics, they are capitalized – most of the time. The book is inconsistent with that. Said BBEG’s spellcasting list, let that be acknowledged, at least properly lists the slots each level, unlike the OSRIC version. That being said, the friendly NPCs get basic statistics, listing skills etc., and being noncombatants, no attacks – I can live with the omission here, and the NPCs can be run in a combat scenario, if need be. That’s a good thing and an improvement in comparison with the OSRIC iteration.
So yeah, summa summarum, if you expect precision regarding the rules (not that hard to achieve for OSRIC), let me tell you right now that this module will annoy you in that regard. The adventure also includes a new creature, which is a worm with paralytic tendrils – a carrion crawler variant, essentially. Not impressed there. Formatting being bad, the combat stats at least get damage types right, which is not something you could say about the traps and environmental features alas – damage types matter in 5e VERY MUCH, and the module fails to properly designate pretty much all environmental damage encountered. Granted, it’s usually easy to discern when acid, fire, piercing etc. should be the source, but I maintain that a GM should not have to do so in 5e. Furthermore, trap formatting deviates from how things are properly done in 5e, and in one instance, we have Constitution damage, a concept that is SUPER rare in 5e, and certainly should not be caused by acid. Traps sprinkled with catatonic agent? Okay, so what does it do? No idea, no rules are provided. The author obviously did not understand how poison works in 5e. Skill/Ability check references also tend to be incorrect, often not even referencing the thing you actually check for.
What did impress me, though, were the visuals: Lloyd and Raven Metcalf are artists, and it shows – the original pieces of artwork provided for the module are impressive b/w-pieces, and both the map of the eponymous village of brindle (with even a touch of isometric cliffs) and the dungeon featured within are awesome to look at. I did not expect the module to feature such neat artworks. Minor niggle: The dungeon area could have used player-friendly maps for VTT-use etc. – you know, sans secret doors indicators, sans numbers. A minor downside: The dungeon map has no grid or scale noted, which can be relevant, considering the challenge faced there, but we’ll get to that later. It should be noted that the module sports generally well-written read-aloud text.
All right, this is as far as I can without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the frontier settlement Westwego has an issue – the Firstfeast celebrations are approaching, and while the church of purity frowns upon the annual excess, it can use the tax revenue…but more importantly, the village can really use the boost of morale before the years’ darkest days. Thankfully, Westwego isn’t too far from the eponymous settlement of Brindle, a settlement that specializes in producing the finest tobacco, booze and (pipe)weed. So yeah, this adventure is essentially a beerrun! Awesome premise!
If you’re following my suggestion and want to run this as a Thanksgiving/Halloween-ish kids-module, just replace tobacco, weed, etc. with sweets, turkey and the like – granted, the map of Brindle spells these out in text, but yeah, this is a simple way to modify the module.
Anyhow, the beerrun begins with a brief wilderness track towards Brindle, but, alas, the party will soon find out the reason for the troubles getting there – in a rather unrewarding manner. You see, there are quite a few traps on the way through the wilderness, and they are not fair: They are not telegraphed in any way, as they just happen – they are invisible lines that are traversed. A better way to handle that, would have been to describe a small scene, and having the trap be part of that scene in a fair manner. As written, this is not a good start for the adventure, but thankfully remains the weakest part of the adventure.
Once the adventurers arrive in Brindle, they’ll be greeted with a rather intriguing sight: Brindle is a village inhabited entirely…by goblins! And they work! Sure, there is playfulness in the job descriptions, when the module refers to hoochmaidens and poop-flingers, taking a funny and irreverent take towards agriculture, but the village excels in another way – it manages to feel plausible. From the “street” names to the details, it feels plausible, something that also extends to the entirety of the adventure – it’s a small thing, but it’s this very hard and ephemeral thing to achieve that I rarely get to see and really enjoy.
Anyway, the goblins, former adepts of a cloister, who, courtesy of their quick succession of generations, essentially became pretty “good” as far as goblins are concerned, live in fear of the night, for that is where the horrible bogeys arrive! As an aside, the module also has the option of arriving at night, and start with combat, but I’d advise in favor of taking the time to soak in the unique atmosphere of Brindle, supported by the friendly and quirky NPCs. While, as noted before, these NPC-statblocks are incomplete, they don’t need to fight – that’s what the party is for.
The legend of the bogey, started in the context of some alcohol-induced haze, has been indeed hijacked – you can see that on the front cover – and indeed, the bogeys are…kobolds. Clever kobolds under the lead of a strange, feathered illusionist kobold deemed to be a quasi-deity. The crafty creatures have had a field day plundering Brindle’s excellent trading goods, cowing the goblins effectively.
Once the party has repelled the nightly assault and figured out the truth, they will be able to track the assailants to their base, an abandoned dwarven mine, where the kobolds have also found a dragon egg…but that might not be relevant for you if you don’t plan on playing the next adventure in the series. A big plus here: Particularly smart and crafty groups can deduce that there is more than one means of entering the dungeon, which is a pretty nice angle we should see more often – kudos for that.
The lack of scale for the dungeon can potentially cause some problems when running this, though, for the adventure deals with the defeat of the kobolds – and there are over 100 of the little pests in the complex. In 5e, this makes the module potentially a horrific, frustrating SLOG. Slogging through killing 100+ kobolds is just not fun, and sans a grid, actively aggravating. Speaking of which: The complex’s terrain features include things that are usually handled with exhaustion, which show that the author doesn’t know how/when those rules are used, instead providing a (badly) improvised alternative. Which also notes “saving throws VS death” – that’s called death saving throw, and you don’t arrive at that immediately. *sigh*
And yet, having a proper grid for a massive running battle/retreat etc. would have been very helpful indeed. On the plus-side, like the village, there is a consistent sense of plausibility in the dungeon, and plenty of small details ultimately make the complex feel both lived in and organic – from acidic sludge to a ton of small details, the terrain feels alive and plausible, and is often combat-relevant in a nice manner. You can *feel* that the author genuinely cared about making this adventure fun, rewarding and versatile. And that is very important to me. However, this sense of care and attention to detail has not been afforded to the 5e-version of this adventure, as touched upon before.
Editing and formatting are plain bad on a formal and rules language level, no mincing of words here. The layout adheres to a solid 2-column b/w-standard, and the pdf features several amazing b/w-artworks and nice maps – though I do bemoan the lack of a player-friendly variant for the dungeon map, and the lack of scale on it. The pdf comes without bookmarks, which constitutes a huge comfort detriment. I strongly suggest getting print; for pdf only, you should take that as an additional downside into account.
Lloyd Metcalf’s first Brindle-module deserved SO MUCH BETTER. This is the absolute barebones minimum of a conversion to 5e, a conversion that barely manages to work in a rudimentary manner, with a ridiculous amount of glitches, inconveniences and hiccups. I really liked the original version, in spite of its flaws, but the exceedingly problematic rules issues that were annoying in OSRIC become downright grating in a more rules-heavy game like 5e. It is readily apparent that there is a lack of understanding at work here, with many of5e’s rules, the conventions of the system, and even basic components required to run the game, simply absent. In short, this, alas, is an example for a bad 5e-conversion that only manages to get the bare minimum done, and does so badly. Not even starting with the difference in how combat operates and the absence of a shifted focus for the grind-y dungeon portion of the adventure. I can’t recommend this conversion to anyone, try as I might, and though it breaks my heart, my final score can’t exceed 1.5 stars, though I will round up, mainly courtesy of the fact that the charming original vision is still here – it’s just buried in serious issues.