The Willowmere Vagabonds an OSR RPG Module Review – #RPGaMonth

Today I’m going to take a look at an adventure module using the For Gold & Glory rule set, called The Willowmere Vagabonds. This module is compatible with the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition rule set.

This module is my #RPGaMonth Challenge book for April 2019.  While the goal of this challenge is to read one book a month with the intention of getting some of those unplayed books you have read, I didn’t quite do that this month. See, I was sent this module by the writer specifically to review. So while I did read an RPG book in April, it wasn’t one I have owned for a long time.

Disclosure: Malrex of The Merciless Merchants sent me this copy of The Willowmere Vagabonds, at no charge, specifically for me to review. No other compensation was provided. I would like to think that this had no effect on my view of the product, but I’ll leave that up to you to decide. Also, some links in this post are affiliate links. Using them costs you nothing but gives us a small, very appreciated, kickback.

So why did I choose to review a For Gold & Glory adventure this month?

The Willowmere Vagabonds Module for For Gold & GloryOverall it seems people dig my review style. I get a lot of compliments on my Shadow of the Demon Lord Review. Besides direct feedback I can see that it is one of the most popular articles I’ve published here on the blog. It’s also one of the things that gets linked the most often and has even been discussed on a few podcasts. It was that review that got Malrex of The Merciless Merchants to contact me. They appreciate the candor and detail they saw in my previous reviews and basically asked me to tear apart some of their own work.

At first, I declined. I’m not really an OSR guy. I didn’t grow up on D&D like many gamers my age. My first RPG was TSR Marvel Super Heroes. I didn’t actually get into Dungeons and Dragons until Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition. It’s when I explained this to Malrex that he sold me on doing this review. I guess his modules are written for a system called For Gold & Glory. The thing is that FG&G is an AD&D 2e Retroclone. Somehow, they managed to pitch me the one classic fantasy system I actually did know.

I admit I have a soft spot for AD&D 2e. That was my university game (my college game for those of you in the US). It’s the game I played in my late teens and early twenties. Its the game I played when I met many of the people I still game with now. It was the game I made the most friends playing. I will always look back fondly at that time of my life and the games I played were a big part of it.

So really The Merciless Merchants got lucky, by pitching to me a module for the one OSR system that I know and have fond memories of.

The look and Presentation of The Willowmere Vagabonds

The cover of The Willowmere VagabondsRight off the bat when opening the bubble envelop that The Willowmere Vagabonds came in, I was impressed. It’s a solidly built small book with no saddle staple and solid binding. A thick, glossy softcover with somewhat dark but evocative art.

Opening it up the paper quality is decent. Text is easy to read. No bleed or anything like that. It uses a two column layout that I found worked well. One section came off as a bit of a wall of text but most of it is broken up by some rather solid artwork. The art has an old school line drawing style that reminds me of my old D&D books, which fits well. My only complaint, visually, is one wandering monster table that uses a smaller font for some reason. I don’t think this would be a problem for younger readers but I had a bit of difficulty reading it and had to take my glasses off.

The module itself is a total of 32 pages long. A decent size. There’s some legal stuff and an ad in the back of the book as well.

An in-depth look at The Willowmere Vagabonds, a For Gold & Glory Adventure

The introduction of The Willowmere Vagabonds. The Willowmere Vagabonds was written by Jon Bertani and Aaron Fairbrook (not sure which one goes by Malrex). It uses the For Gold & Glory rule set. For Gold & Glory is an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition retroclone so this module is fully compatible with that original ruleset.

The adventure is broken down into 7 chapters and is designed for a party of 4-7 characters levels 2-4.

It’s worth noting that right from page one the book (and the rest of this review) should be for GM’s eyes only.

The book starts with adventure background, GM notes and the details of the home base for the adventure. The Willowmere Vagabonds is centered around a hamlet called the Willowmere Way House and the Willowmere Lodge. It’s assumed the players are staying at the lodge and a variety of hooks are given to get the PCs involved. While this module was written as part of a larger story there are some good tips for tossing it into the middle of your campaign. You just need a wooded or swampy area. Details of the inn and it’s current residents are given.

One of my favourite things in any RPG module is also included here: a rumor table. I love rumor tables. As usual, there is a mix of true and false rumors all of which can be heard while the party stays at the Inn.

Chapter 1: The Willowmere Wayhouse.

Note: this time Wayhouse is one-word, other times it’s two. There are a plethora of minor spelling and grammar issues like this throughout the book. Nothing that ruined my understanding of the module, but it definitely could have used a better edit.

The Willowmere Vagabonds Chapter 1

This chapter highlights the main base of the adventure the hamlet of Willowmere Wayhouse. It’s a pretty typical small base setting filled with NPCs and fairly mundane locations. There is a keyed map of the hamlet (the map is at the back of the module) included. After the map key there are some adventure hooks and timed encounters. These introduce the GM to the main plot. A plot that I really thought was very cool.

Here’s an overview: Travelers and merchants keep getting ambushed in the woods, specifically along one set path. They remember odd sounds, and shouting, but not any actual struggle. They wake up with their weapons and some of their gear not only missing, but replaced by mundane items. Swords are replaced by bread sticks, caltrops with stones, gold with marbles, etc. This is the plot as we know it at this point, but there is more to it.

Players are free to do what they want with this information. The adventure has both a series of timed encounters that will occur if the players do nothing or can be adopted by the GM based on their actions. It also includes a hex crawl style map of the Willowmere area. I appreciate that the module could be approached different ways and thus has the ability to appeal to different styles of play.

Eventually the party gets ambushed themselves and have the chance to learn that it is a group of Fey who are causing these problems, led by a Satyr. But it goes deeper than that…

Chapter 2: Into the Willowmere

The Willowmere Vagabonds Chapter 2This chapter is the information for the hex crawl I mentioned above. It’s paired to a map of the Willowmere in the back of the book. As is fitting for the rules being used there is your expected wandering encounter table and 9 keyed encounter locations. These are a great mix of combat, environmental encounters with a couple of interesting roleplaying encounters that could result in some new recruits for the party or combat depending on how the players approach them.

The plot thickens. During all this exploration or perhaps just following the trail led by the ambush the players should learn that there’s more going on than some fey playing nasty tricks. There is the front of a Hobgoblin army in the area and they are testing the waters for invasion. This is why the Fey are stealing gear and weapons, to protect their homes. I thought this was a fantastic twist. It’s obvious from the tone of the adventure that the players should ally with the Fey in order to face the greater threat, but that’s not implicitly stated.

If your group is a bunch of murder hobos and just want to wipe out the Fey and get back their gear, the module is written for that possibility. Personally, if I was running this I would really be pushing towards a peaceful resolution with the Fey. Not only is that more interesting to me, but I think the group is going to need some help later. Hobgoblins are nasty!

Chapter 3: The Tree Lair. 

The Willowmere Vagabonds Chapter 3The Tree Lair is the home of the Fey. It’s assumed that the party will either stumble across it during their hex crawl or follow GM planted clues back here after the ambush. This series of encounters is set up as if the players are fighting their way thorough the lair. I personally think that by this point negotiations should be happening. I would think that with the average group that by the end of this chapter the players have either allied with the Fey or at least determined to leave them alone while they turn their attention to the greater threat.

My big complaint about this chapter is the map. The map is a kind of a ‘blobby’ set of rooms around a bunch of roots. This just doesn’t do the area descriptions justice. There are all kinds of interesting rooms and encounters filled with glowing crystals  and interesting furniture. Why none of this is on the actual map, I do not understand. This is one where I couldn’t just print off a copy of the map. If I wanted to use map and minis here I would have to do a lot of work on my own to bring the text to life.

Chapter 4: The Hobgoblin Incursion. 

The Willowmere Vagabonds Chapter 4Here we have details of a smaller Hobgoblin camp that has been set up pretty deep into the Willowmere. This is the first real detailed dungeon you will find in this adventure. Along with its keyed map, this is a pretty standard delve into an enemy dungeon. This is mostly pure combat. There aren’t really any puzzles or traps to figure out. Some ideas other than a frontal assault are given and actively encouraged.

The one thing I found missing here was detailed strategies for the Hobgoblins. The initial Fey ambush had some fantastic round by round tactical suggestions for the GM. Something I always appreciate especially when dealing with NPC spellcasters. I would have liked to see something similar here.

Chapter 5: The Road To Battle

The module assumes that after dealing with the Hobgoblin camp the party moves on to a large Hobgoblin fort at the edge of the Willowmere. This chapter deals with the journey there and the opposition the party will face.  It starts with a good roleplaying scene where the players may find another helping hand in the form of a Dwarf Forge Guard (a new Dwarf Paladin style templatr, for which the rules are included in the back of the module). Next is an overland encounter involving a Yeti and a bridge.

Chapter 6: The Crimson Legion Fort

The Willowmere Vagabonds Chapter 6This is the final battle. Another dungeon crawl as the players assault the Hobgoblin’s fort. Similar to the last Hobgoblin based dungeon you will find a long series of combat encounters. Again, there aren’t really any puzzles or traps. While I get that this fits the martial nature of Hobgoblins, it seems like at least one or two non-combat encounters could have been a welcome edition here. There aren’t even really any interesting effect rooms. There’s a water chamber, that the hobgoblins don’t even realize is there, but it’s just filled with fresh water. It’s not a magical stream or anything like that.

If your group likes combat encounters against an overwhelming, and well prepared force this is going to be a great finale for you.

Chapter 7: Conclusion

The two-paragraph conclusion is a pretty sorry denouement.  Basically, the hamlet sees the characters as heroes and they can stay there for free while the larger hobgoblin force is going to be pissed off, and will make good recurring villians. From what I can tell they are a big part of the overall module series of which Willowmere Vagabonds is only one part.

The end of the book

The Willowmere Vagabonds new monstersAfter the conclusion there is a list of 10 Pre-generated characters for you to use if you don’t already have a For Gold & Glory party. These were just a bunch of stat blocks and equipment. I personally would have liked to have seen some character background, or more importantly, reasons for these particular characters to be in the Willowmere and with each other.

This is followed by a new spell, Rune Arrow, because priests need more ways to deal damage… I guess. There’s a new Dwarf Template: the Forge Guard, which is basically a way for Dwarves to be Paladins. Lastly we have a new monster. To me this was the coolest of the new rule material. It’s called a Calamitous Tree and what I thought was especially cool here is that there were different breeds of trees based on real life species and all had different attacks, based on their physical properties.

The final section of the book are the maps. Most of these are decent, but they do vary in quality. I have to assume they came from different sources. They don’t look like they all come from the same mapper.

My overall thoughts on The Willowmere Vagabonds

Overall I dig it. I really love the plot. I love the fact that the initial hook isn’t the full story. I enjoyed learning that this was not just a matter of fey playing tricks on the local populace. I liked that the story was much bigger and broader than that. I also dig the way this works for a D&D adventure. That at first the threat is small but then you learn of a larger threat. This fits the level advancement system in D&D well. All of the encounters with the Fey are going to get the characters the XP they are going to need to face the Hobgoblins.

The Willowmere Vagabonds - The Willowmere Wilderness MapI do have one complaint and it’s a big one, at least for me. The one thing that kept driving me nuts about this module is that the artwork, while great on its own, doesn’t match the actual descriptions in the adventure. This started right away with the Inn. In the description the roof has battlements. On the overland map of the hamlet, the building with the number matching the inn has a peaked roof. This continues on throughout the module, and it kind of drove me nuts.

Here’s an encounter where you come across a sleeping man in armour. In his scabbard is a breadstick. The picture on the page for this encounter: a warrior standing up, leaning on a tree with a pike! What does that picture have to do with this encounter? I already complained about this above with the description of the Tree Lair not matching the map either.

Now I get it. This is an independently published 3rd party RPG module and art is expensive! I get it, I really do. I don’t really expect more than stock art and maybe one or two new images in a product like this. But, for some reason the artwork really took me out of the module. I found it distracting and, honestly, annoying.

So, lets forget the art, because, besides the art, there is a ton to like in this book. This sounds like a really fun module. I’ve already mentioned it, but I really dig the fact that there’s a deeper story here than first appears.

While I don’t plan on rushing out and buying For Gold or Glory, if I ever did run Advanced Dungeons And Dragons 2nd Edition again, I would strongly consider fitting in The Willowmere Vagabonds.

I’ve got to admit I am really curious about For Gold or Glory. Have you tried that particular retroclone? If you have I would love to hear about it in the comments.

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3 Responses

  1. Thank you for your review it is much appreciated. This was our first release and there was certainly a learning curve here. Since then we’ve had a common not on the art we use.
    Check out our other releases,
    Thank you for your time.
    Jon of the Merciless Merchants.

    1. Jon,

      Thanks for the chance to check out your module. I hadn’t realized it was your first. It’s rather impressive for a first work. Great work on the story and glad to hear that future products don’t have the same artwork issue.


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