RPG Review: An Axe to Grind (5e compatible)

An Axe to Grind
For Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

Publisher: D Coleman Productions
Year Published: 2016
Page Count: 28 + Maps
Available Formats: PDF
Cost: PDF – $5.79

PREMISE:
A malevolent nature spirit from the Feywild has been imprisoned in an ancient oak stump in the middle of a vibrant wood. Civilization has been encroaching on the wood and group of unwitting woodsmen have released the spirit and it has once again tainted the surrounding forest. Unlike the first time, the spirit is not to be trifled with; can the heroes subdue the spirit and returning the wood back to beautiful and peaceful place. An adventure for characters of 3rd level.

PRODUCT QUALITY:
The overall quality of this module is excellent, but there are some aesthetic elements I don’t particularly care for, but your mileage may vary. The module as a whole is superbly laid out! The text is clear and easy to read. Creature blocks are not stat blocks, but rather a tool for quick referencing the actual stat block and XP awards. “Read aloud” text is shaded for easy identification. The artwork is black and white line art and is thematically appropriate to the story. The maps are one particular area I wish had been done differently. To be honest, they are absolutely functional, but the artistic look of the maps is something that does not appeal to me. I also observed a few grammatical errors throughout the module.

I should note that the purchase includes the module in two formats. First, the standard format  includes a nice parchment colored background that is reminiscent of the published hardbacks by Wizards of the Coast. The second is a printer friendly version with the parchment colored background removed for cost effective printing. The map insets and “read aloud” boxes are still in full color.

PRODUCT OVERVIEW (Spoiler free):
First, it must be said that this adventure written under the new Opening Gaming License (OGL)  and is also part of a larger series of adventures entitled Dungeons on Demand. Dungeons on Demand is a series of modules that are ready to run “right out of the box”. They are designed with an eye towards being just generic enough to fit into any existing game.

The adventure itself presumes that the adventurers will be hooked into the story by any number of possibilities. If for some reason the gamemaster lacks a suitable way to lead the players into the story or the players are just not taking the bait, the module includes a variety of rumors (going old school!) and solid adventures hooks. Each hook and rumor is meant to draw the players in with just enough interest and reason that will facilitate the start of the adventure.

Unlike the majority of the adventures being published as of late under the OGL, the Dungeons on Demand series has taken into account a variety of things that often plague gamemasters. First, Dan has taken the time to include descriptive blocks of text allowing the gamemaster to easily describe the scenes for the players. These “Read aloud” text blocks are something that is often times forgotten. Second, he has used a unique set of symbols on his game maps to help the gamemaster work more quickly.

The maps, let’s talk about the maps briefly. There are two maps included with the module. The first is the gamemasters map and it is keyed for his or her use only. The other map is a player face map which is unkeyed and does not contain any spoilers. This is something I particularly like and look for in modules. Player facing maps are, to me, a mark of a product that strives to go above and beyond! I have already commented above that the style of the maps is not to my liking, but I want to re-iterate that they are perfectly functional and more than adequate.

The map symbology used in the Dungeons on Demand series is straight forward and while visually different, it is very practical and functional. It makes the maps easy to interpret and places things in context to the larger area. A nice touch even if they look a little like 1960s comic book “ka-pows”.

Map Legend

Care has been taken to include additional post-game adventure hooks depending on how the adventure unfolds. These additional hooks can be used to propel the story forward as the gamemaster sees fit. The creature appendix (Appendix A) includes all the statistical information needed to bring the new unique creatures and entities to life for the players.

So, what is this adventure really all about? Keeping the premise in mind, the players must find a way to eliminate the threat of the malevolent nature spirit and the creatures that work under its command. Eliminating the nature spirit will allow the wood to return to its former natural state of serenity. To do so, the players will need to overcome a number of obstacles and solve some puzzles to connect the dots. Additionally, they will have the opportunity to meet several notable NPCs that might become allies or enemies depending on how the players interact with them.

PROS:
Rich finely crafted storyline
“Read aloud” descriptive text
Easy and pleasurable to read
Suggestions on how to roleplay particular notable NPCs
A nice mix of obstacles and challenges for players to overcome
Easily insertable into existing campaigns
Three new and unique creatures not seen before
Player facing map and insets are perfect for online play through a virtual table top

CONS:
Cartography style
Minor grammatical errors

PARTING SHOTS:
Despite my dislike for the art style of the maps, this is a solid adventure and worth looking at. The adventure has enough several unique elements that will challenge the players. If your players want fun, excitement and the occasional puzzle they will find all of that in this module.  If you’re a gamemaster that is looking for something different to insert into your existing game to either break up a prolonged story arc or begin a new story arc, this might just be a good purchase for you.

~ Modoc

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