Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 12 February 2022

Pocket Sized Perils #1

For every Ptolus: City by the Spire or Zweihander: Grim & Perilous Roleplaying or World’s Largest Dungeon or Invisible Sun—the desire to make the biggest or most compressive roleplaying game, campaign, or adventure, there is the opposite desire—to make the smallest roleplaying game or adventure. Reindeer Games’ TWERPS (The World's Easiest Role-Playing System) is perhaps one of the earliest examples of this, but more recent examples might include the Micro Chapbook series or the Tiny D6 series. Yet even these are not small enough and there is the drive to make roleplaying games smaller, often in order to answer the question, “Can I fit a roleplaying game on a postcard?” or “Can I fit a roleplaying game on a business card?” And just as with roleplaying games, this ever-shrinking format has been used for scenarios as well, to see just how much adventure can be packed into as little space as possible. Recent examples of these include The Isle of Glaslyn, The God With No Name, and Bastard King of Thraxford Castle, all published by Leyline Press.

The Pocket Sized Perils series uses the same A4 sheet folded down to A6 as the titles from Leyline Press, or rather the titles from Leyline Press use the same A4 sheet folded down to A6 sheet as Pocket Sized Perils series. Funded via a Kickstarter campaign as part of the inaugural ZineQuest—although it debatable whether the one sheet of paper folded down counts as an actual fanzine—this is a series of six mini-scenarios designed for use with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, but actually rules light enough to be used with any retroclone, whether that is the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game or Old School Essentials. Just because it says ‘5e’ on the cover, do not let that dissuade you from taking a look at this series and see whether individual entries can be added to your game. The mechanics are kept to a minimum, the emphasis is on the Player Characters and their decisions, and the actual adventures are fully drawn and sketched out rather than being all text and maps.

An Ambush in Avenwood is the inaugural entry in the Pocket Sized Perils series. Designed for First Level Player Characters, the scenario has a simple set-up, plot progression, and denouement. It can be played through in a single session and will present the Player Characters with plenty of challenge for that session—perhaps too much challenge in the final scene?—whilst also allowing sufficient scope for the Dungeon Master to work the scenario into her campaign or just flesh out a few details as necessary if run as a one-shot. The set-up begins with the Player Characters about to ambush a prison cart. Inside the prison cart will be Lady Briarthorn, the leader of the resistance who has been captured by the Baron’s soldiers and is being transported to a secret location. As fellow members of the resistance, the Player Characters have this one last chance to rescue her! However, all is not what it seems.

The ambush itself is detailed on the first few pages of the fanzine, including a map and stats for the guards. Once the Player Characters defeat the guards they discover that Lady Briarthorn is not being transported in the prison cart, but rather a local healer, Bernard. Fortunately, he has overheard that Lady Briarthorn is being held in a nearby ruined tower which stands atop a flat-topped rocky outcropping. The tower itself is detailed—or rather drawn in full cross section—on the reverse of the first six pages of An Ambush in Avenwood, so essentially, the second part of the scenario needs to be unfolded and the sheet itself turned over. Here the designer has outdone himself with an entertaining illustration of the tower, its four storeys, and the camp outside, as well as in the rocky outcropping itself. The Dungeon Master can easily run the encounters in these few locations off the one page and barring the need to flip over for the stats for the guards, is given everything she needs to run the second part of An Ambush in Avenwood all the way up to the scenario’s climax.

The final scene for the adventure is quite tough. The Player Characters will need to contend with another, much more dangerous surprise—and no, it is not that Lady Briarthorn is the villain, though she does become a problem for the Player Characters—and perhaps the Dungeon Master might want to reduce or change the number of offensive spells wielded by the true villain of the piece, as a he is a tough customer. The scenario also takes a weird turn here as well, so the Dungeon Master may want to decide whether or not to include those elements if planning to use An Ambush in Avenwood as the basis of a campaign. If she does, then the Dungeon Master will also need to decide on the identity of the villain as this is left intentionally open.

Physically, An Ambush in Avenwood is very nicely presented, being more drawn than actually written. It has a cartoonish sensibility to it which partially obscures the degree of peril to be found within the walls of the tower. There is a sense of humour too in the details of the drawings, obviously more for the benefit of the Dungeon Master than her players. The combination of having been drawn and the cartoonish artwork with the high quality of the paper stock also gives An Ambush in Avenwood a physical feel which feels genuinely good in the hand. Its small size means that it is very easy to transport.

An Ambush in Avenwood is by no means a sophisticated scenario. It is simple, it is straightforward, and that means it is easy to run with very little preparation time. As the first entry in the Pocket Sized Perils series, An Ambush in Avenwood is an easy to prepare and run one-shot or campaign addition which has a charming physicality.

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