Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Sunken Temple of Chloren-Var Review — Would Work Better As a Text Adventure

The Sunken Temple of Chloren-Var from Wolfhill Entertainment first caught my eye because of the odd phrase in the description, "area variations based on light sources". I can't honestly think of another module that mentioned light sources. I kept my eye on it because it seems to be a product from a new company/person, and after seeing his promotional posts over on ENWorld, I pulled the trigger. At $5.99 it's right on the cusp of my price range for maybe products, but it is quite lengthy at 100 pages (100 real pages, not the padded sort that some people use that only have a few lines of text per page).

It's something of a weird beast in that it's supposedly system neutral, but that system neutral is obviously an older school D&D. There are levels (this is for levels 1st to 4th), but instead of hit points, there are life points. Armor class is given as an equivalent to armor, ranging from leather to field plate, but with some oddities, like bronze platemail (which is just the same as banded or splint, which it uses elsewhere). With that said, there's very, very, very little treasure, and for that matter, not much motivation for the adventure in the first place.

Basically the premise is that the PC's are stopping at an inn for the night, but there's no room available. However, shortly later there is room vacany, because one of the guests is murdered. The PCs also get access to the victim's backpack, which contains an journal and map to the dungeon. The journal explains that the victims ancestor long, long ago, was a squire and failed (maybe) his liege by not helping him enough in the dungeon. And that ancestor wants one of his descendants to oneday redeem the family honor. Since he's now dead, apparently the players will want to take on that task for themselves.

The dungeon itself is well detailed, but there's really not a lot of variety. While it's called a "sunken temple", really it's a crypt, so almost all the encounters are with skeletons, or skeleton like creatures. There are a couple of puzzles. But in either case, there's really not a lot of motivation for the players, as there is almost no treasure, either actual wealth or cool magic items to find. Much of the exploration is just to push forward the plot of redeeming the dead dude's ancestor.

As such, there's a lot of "boxed" text in this, that is, text meant to be read to players. Usually broken up with the phrase <players react> to know when to let players actually, well, play.  While I do not generally use boxed text, I do not really mind it, as long as it's short (2-3 sentences). It's really overkill here, as I would say most of the product is boxed text. Even that could be overlooked if it were a compelling story (like say that of the original Ravenloft), but here it's hard to care about the guy's ancestor, since he seems kinda whiny.

The other thing that really sets it apart from other modules, and is advertised a feature, is it's handling of light. Most rooms have added descriptions when players use a better light source. Beyond that, it constantly features "treasure" that consists of light sources (torches and oil). To make this easier to handle, it includes several tracking tables to make keeping track of how long the light lasts easier.

The PDF is laid out fairly fancily, with a lot of decent quality original artwork. The map is well designed, but doesn't have squares, so a bit hard to tell the scale of things.  There are separate combat maps (as Pay What You Want) that might help in this regard

A lot of work went into The Sunken Temple of Chloren-Var, but I think it's held back by it's somewhat strange design. Are there people who find tracking light meticulously to be enjoyable? I'm sure there are, but it's something that gets handwaved in most games. And while I think read aloud text can be helpful, I think there's just too much here to be easily read to players, or to be listened to by them. I really can't help but think that this should have been an old style computer text adventure, like Zork.


  1. The following is from Wolfhill Entertainment:
    Thank you for purchasing and reviewing “The Sunken Temple of Chloren-Var”. I think this site is a great resource for OSR information and appreciate the work you are doing. After reading the review I would like to offer your readers a slightly different perspective on the adventure module.
    The module is a pre-written, ready to read document created for the “Busy Game Master”. With 20min of preparation, GM’s can start reading the story to the Players without having to be familiar with its contents. Sometimes life gets busy (school, work, family), and GM’s don’t have the time required to create an epic campaign or read through and interpret other modules. The descriptions, while long, are written as such on purpose. They are meant to provide specific cues and clues (and reward) to Players who listen and interpret the descriptions. Since RPG’s are “theater of the mind”, our products focus on describing areas in detail before allowing Players an opportunity to interact with those environments. While most of todays “instant gratification” society craves 140 character info-packets, our products hope to revive the lost skill of patience and listening. With that said, the descriptions are meant for novice or time strapped GM’s, while more experienced GM’s can adjust the adventure however needed. Future projects have taken into consideration the length of descriptions to better suit GM/Player needs. The focus of the module is around the plot rather than the rules, which is why it is advertised as a system agnostic module.

  2. I think you might be confusing the two NPC sub-plots as one. These sub-plots are used to provide a past and present history, lore, and a reason for finding and entering Chloren-Var. Without revealing too much, the main plot revolves around the Players being trapped, and finding a means of escape from the Sunken Temple as a sinister evil attempts to prevent that.
    In the play testing conducted before the release, the light system was very well received. Adding a level of desperation and realism, the light source dynamic was used on purpose to force Players to make critical choices in their exploration of the temple. With darkness constantly being a threat (the most primal of fears), the use of finite “quality light” resources prevents Players from flippantly searching every room for treasures or traps. Even with the strain on time and light, there is literally more treasure to be found at the Sunken Temple than eight Players can physically carry. There are also 20 magic items ranging from scrolls, potions, to permanent items. At levels 1-4, that is 19 more magic items than Players should have (if you want to go OSR). Even with all of these financial and magical incentives, The Sunken Temple of Chloren-Var is written as a forlorn place your Players must survive, not profit from. The mystery, adventure, unfolding history, and determination of the Players to escape, should be motivation enough.
    With the idea of “realism”, most of the encounters are based around the skeletal remains (uniquely ranging in stats, abilities, magic, effects caused to players), but there are also 7 different types of monster/creatures present in the module. There is also a fear system which adjusts how the main antagonist of the temple evolves based on the Players rolls.

  3. Scattered around the 60 unique areas are a variety of interactive environments, numerous traps, items, history, and a handful of puzzles. The module also features random secret rooms and treasure locations. The main temple map is drawn to scale and each room description provides detailed dimensions along with the amount of time required to interact with the environment.

    Completely appreciating that digging into a 100 page module with a fine tooth comb is hardly practical for writing a review, I invite you to delve deeper and re-explore the Sunken Temple of Chloren-Var. I mean the following in a completely playful and non-judgmental way, and I hope you do not take it as an insult. If reviewed by “candle light”, and not a “quality light source” the subtle details of adventure module might be missed.

    Wolfhill Entertainment