Bathtub Review: Beast of Borgenwold

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 Beast of Borgenwold is a 60 page, fully illustrated module for OSR by Harry Menear. A town is plagued by an undead creature, and it can only be ended by venturing into the tomb where it was spawned.

The GM summary could was a bit much for me, two pages when just the timeline was sufficient. The hooks were complex, but tie directly into major NPCs in a specific way which would balance the loss of space, except two of the hooks of the four provided are similar in nature, so really there are three hooks to one page. It wouldn’t matter in a longer list, but in such a short one, the concept density is very dilute in these wordy hooks. There’s a 2d6 encounter table, which is interestingly structured. Half are beast omens, and the two most common are really one-off encounters. This encounter table would be better off unweighted or with different weightings. The stat block for the Beast takes two pages, largely because of layout. I was disappointed to see that it’s a monster manual entry, rather than a unique creature, given it’s the namesake of the module.

Two out of eight rumours don’t appear to lead anywhere, the rest to various NPCs. One of those NPCs feels like a waste, as you’d head to the inn anyway. I’d prefer all rumours to yield some kind of fruit, even if they aren’t the fruit the PCs are looking for.

The next fifteen pages are character write ups, which tend towards too long and wordy for me, and the layout is challenging on my eyes. The villager and hunter generators are excellent, but needed to be laid out in one spread instead of multiple. Not particularly usable at all. The characters themselves are interesting, unique, have competing goals, it’s pretty fun.

There’s a surprising amount of repetition in this, and I’m not sure it’s to the texts benefit. I noticed it in the goblin section, but flicking back and forwards there’s a fair bit. It means the information is always in the place you need, but it also increases the amount of text on each page, which makes it harder to read for me. I think in this case, in a fairly simple module without too many moving parts, I’d lean towards preferring more efficient words than redundancy.

I adore the concept of the god-goblin cult, but it’s not really fleshed out enough — why would the PCs want to engage with them? What reasons do they have to engage with the PCs? It’s a fun diversion, but hardly tied into everything else, until you get to the dungeon — which contains a bunch more information on the One True Goblin. Weird to split it up, especially without page references.

The dungeon itself has a stellar map, and it’s mostly keyed 1 room for a page. It’s a bit wordy for my liking, and given how generous with space the early layout is, they could have been more generous here for usability. I like the rooms individually a lot, though.

The layout on this whole book is striking, but not functional. Headings are inconsistently placed, making it hard to differentiate and find information. I deplore the font choices for readability, and choices are made to the extreme deficit of usability. It’s striking and atmospheric, but it’s not worth the loss, for me.

My main takeaway is that little things impact usability a lot — this book looks great, but is hard to digest and for me to run. It’s well written, with cool ideas that probably could have fit well in a book half the size, and in this case that would have been a better module. Great ideas left disconnected from the flesh or scattered so things can get missed easily.

That said, the story it tells us a cute, fantasy story with some interesting horror twists. The vibe of the art and layout renders it more horror than it actually is; really you could drop Borgenwold into any fantasy sandbox and have a fun little adventure. It’d be welcome in my campaign.

9th May 2023

Idle Cartulary


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