One of the more interesting Kickstarters currently running is that for an adventure: The Lost Dungeons of Xon: The Crucible. Burning Yeti Studios plan to release three versions of their adventure – for 1E, 5E and Pathfinder – but its most intriguing feature is its presentation: as an interactive pdf, optimised for use on tablets.
I’ve been provided with a review copy of the Pathfinder adventure, and it’s an interesting document. In addition to the innovative format of the pdf, it makes use of two very popular kickstarters of recent years: the Dwarven Forge Dungeon Tiles, and the Reaper Bones miniatures. All the encounters are written to take advantage of those products; instead of traditional illustrations and maps, the adventure shows the dungeon set up with Dungeon Tiles and with Bones miniatures, all nicely painted.
The dungeons, consequently, look great, and there are handy guides for which pieces you need. The biggest drawback of this approach is that occasionally the dungeon layout isn’t quite as clear as you might hope, and I really would have appreciated an old-school dungeon map for when I couldn’t be bothered with setting up the tiles.
The adventure isn’t very long, but neither is it very expensive (the kickstarter can be bought into for only $5). The concept behind it is that the adventurers have entered a competition. Their team has to find an object and return it to town before another team does so. The object they need is in a dungeon, but they’ll need to do a little investigation to discover where the dungeon is! It’s a nice, simple adventure concept, although there are deeper plans afoot that further adventures in the series promise to expand upon.
The actual encounters are really well done. This is a thinking player’s adventure, where most of the encounters are tricks and traps, and really inventive tricks at that. I really like the first room of the dungeon. It makes everyone appear as goblins and speak in goblin as well, which may cause one of two communication issues. This has a great pay-off later and, despite the challenge of running this section properly, it’s a memorable encounter.
There’s a good amount of role-playing and problem-solving here. There is not so much combat, but the rest of the adventure is good enough that I don’t really mind.
So, the adventure is pretty good. How is the layout? Well, that’s where the preview document has problems. And the problems come from attempting to make the adventure too visually distinctive. There are a huge number of different fonts, sizes, backgrounds, colours and the like being used here. In particular, the adventure fumbles how it presents monster stats.
The background looks great, but it is a bad choice for reading the text, and the different fonts for the stats are also a big mistake. The image above is smaller than how it appears on screen, but even at full size it’s not easy to read.
The other problem comes from the major combat encounter, where you need to be flipping between three pages of the pdf to access the encounter description and all the statblocks. That’s too many; it should entirely be possible to present the stats on a single page and quite clearly (even in Pathfinder!)
These are not insurmountable problems, and I hope the layout becomes clearer between now and when the kickstarter ends. Overall, The Crucible is a great little adventure, but the format still needs some work. I still consider it well worth checking out: the encounter design deserves it!