Bathtub Review: The Drain

Bathtub Reviews are an excuse for me to read modules a little more closely, but I’m doing this as a critique from the perspective of me, playing, and designing modules myself. They’re stream of consciousness and unedited harsh critiques on usually excellent modules. I’m writing them on my phone in the bath.

The Drain is a sixteen page Mothership module by Ian Yusem designed to act as a funnel for character generation. It’s fully illustrated in Mothership house style, and I think I backed it for a zinequest one year maybe? I spoil the ending for this one, fyi.

Mothership doesn’t have rules for level zero PCs, so the first page is rules to cover this. It includes some interesting and appreciated additions, such as “allow swarming to overcome odds”, as well as a table of items and criminal convictions to ascertain why you’ve been sent to the hellhole that is the Drain.

The setting is a failed colony ship where inhabitants have turned to a crazed religion as their crops fail and the people starve. The PCs have been drafted to recover the source of a transmission deep within the colony. Warships battle around the colony, perhaps because of this transmission, perhaps for other reasons — it wasn’t clear to me.

The colony (“The Wheel”) is loosely mapped into zones which are broken into sections, effectively a point crawl. The distances don’t quite make sense to me, as it specifies 2500 acres of farmland but the most you’ll travel for is 1 hour to cover the diameter of the colony. I think this undermines the scale of the colony on one hand, but also I don’t want to spend hours travelling, so perhaps we need a smaller station? The abstract nature of the map also impacts descriptions, with secret passages, blockages not being represented on the map, and hence being hidden in block text. The point crawl doesn’t actually show the lines between points clearly.

Randomisers worked into the locations are often wasted space, in my opinion, but here they support replayability when there’s a decent chance that characters won’t survive the first attempt. Initial descriptions are short and excellent, although sometimes poorly ordered. Dot points are standard here, if that’s your jam. It works well enough for me, but writing is concise enough it’s hardly necessary.

This module leans heavily into body horror in a lot of the encounters and descriptions, which is 100% my jam but you mileage may vary. They do include a content warning at the beginning of the module. For a funnel adventure, the climax is likely to change the entire campaign permanently, which means by signing up to this funnel, you’re commuting to exploring the impact of a demon invasion into your sci-fi world.

Two pages of enemies come next; the descriptions are one or two sentences and very evocative, although the more complex stat blocks detract from this a little. A page of loot generators is flavourful in the sense that it’s awfully nihilistic.

This module is pretty great in the specifics — descriptions, themes, mechanics — but is compromised by not using visual information as a communication strategy, particularly in the map, which probably would have been better represented as a diagram or an actual map. The ending makes for a permanent campaign direction, which is not usually something I’d find ideal in a funnel.

My takeaways are that visual information needs to be functional and pretty, and that I wish I could write terse beautiful description as well as Ian Yusem. I probably wouldn’t run this without reading the sequel adventure, as apparently it explores the consequences of the ending in a bit more detail, but it’s still good on its own.

2nd May, 2023

Idle Cartulary


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