We received a free copy of First Adventure, an adventure for D&D5e written by Leonardo Benucci, available in digital format on DMSGuild at around € 4.50 in the Italian, English and Spanish languages. It is also possible to obtain the Fantasy Grounds form at around € 8.
First Adventure was written as a long one-shot or two short sessions of a few hours each. It tells the story of a group of kids who live their first adventure together and, due to a series of circumstances, they meet again as capable adventurers 17 years later, to complete what they have started.
After reading the material, my opinion on it is mixed. There are some elements I liked a lot, that work and demonstrate good ideas and even enthusiasm. Unfortunately, there are other aspects that failed to convinced me. While insufficient to make me pass on the chance to enjoy the adventure and the good ideas in it, those short-comings aren’t something I can lightly or easily ignore.
What works for First Adventure: creativity and photography
This adventure is very cinematic. It ties the characters together and immerses the players in the story easily. Role-playing children is a departure from the usual D&D experience but, thanks to the Kids and PCs appendix, it is possible to enjoy a dungeon even from childhood perspective. Situations can be engaging, both encounters and any ensuing action. The details are capable of arousing simple but immediate emotions. Specific rules are provided for some moments to highlight them, imbuing them with a sense of uniqueness everyone can appreciate. Even the ending is cinematic, featuring a ‘post credits’-type scene, lending greater depth and further context in retrospect to the characters’ previous actions.
In short, the core of the product is fully present. As I read the pages, the desire to play blossomed and I imagined the reactions of my players to certain plot points.
What doesn’t work: some unfortunate choices
These considerations come from my reading of the Italian version. There are many types of readers and this judgment is very personal, but there are aspects that I just didn’t appreciate reading First Adventure. First of all there is a problem of pagination, but more about later. Secondly, I found various aspects of the writing unpleasant: I don’t really agree with some stylistic choices and attempts at humor. I would have appreciated a little more attention to consistency in the original drafting of the text.
For example, sometimes the skills or characteristics required for a test are indicated in upper case, other times in lower case. A quick rereading/proofing would have given greater homogeneity and a greater sense of professionalism – acknowledging the fact that the work is intended for sale to the public, and so should cleave to a higher standard. The same lack of attention resulted in occasional poor word choices.
I didn’t particularly like some stylistic choices either.
Although the intent was to facilitate interpretation and encourage understanding of how an NPC should talk, I prefer to read a simple directive indicating that a character speaks with a childish vocabulary rather than adding quotes by way of example. Moreover, these are rendered in uppercase in the Italian version, completely without cause, and include numerous strange words (not present in the English version therefore I cannot give you examples).
I was left with the impression that there is a nice, creative idea behind the adventure which was, unfortunately, written more as a transcript of the author’s personal sessions rather than as a commercial adventure module to be distributed for sale to players of many different ages, cultures and approaches to tabletop gaming. I’m sure many people with different tastes will find values in what I indicate as defects.
Layout, a problem that can be solved
Usually I talk about illustrations and layout together in a single paragraph; this time I had to separate them because they were executed with nearly opposite values. If the illustrations are the best part of First Adventure, the layout is the most disappointing. We have the classic two-column format common to Dungeons & Dragons texts, but the first thing that caught my eye was the absence of fully justified text alignment. In such a narrow format, the visual effect and copy readability are strongly diminished by this choice, especially in the Italian version, so full of long words.
The text boxes to be read to players are framed horizontally but not vertically, reducing the detachment from the flow of the text somewhat. The same is true of the text boxes containing tips for the DM. Inexplicably, these blocks of text are rendered in a smaller font, especially the latter sort. In addition to being aesthetically ugly, it also makes reading them difficult, even uncomfortable.
My feeling is that, with only a little effort, it could have been done better. It would have been an easy fix. Revisions for digital product are easily made. I also realize that what I see as text flow issues may not even be noticed by those not professionally involved in production for publication.
The graphics: the flagship of First Adventure
On the other hand, I speak of the illustrations in this work with extreme pleasure. They are very beautiful, absolutely spot-on, and help to make the adventure a lot more pleasant and engaging. There are twelve illustrations to captivate and immerse the players. They are mostly black and white, but those bearing color are skillfully rendered, too. The portraits of the characters, showing them both as children and as adults, are very well done. The likenesses between the two ages of the characters and attention to detail in those designs enrich the pages of the adventure. Even the cover art, an homage to the 1985 film “Goonies”, is well-executed and attractive.
The character sheets are well made, easy to navigate, read and manage. As one of the fundamental elements allowing players to engage with a one-shot more swiftly and fully, the character record sheets show excellent strength.
The only disappointment with the graphics was my expection that the maps be more refined. They still do their job very well, however.
Target audience and humor
Not everyone laughs for the same things. So inserting comedy into a product obviously entails an element of risk that that some readers won’t appreciate it. When it comes to First Adventure, I am among them. I am the first to joke at the game table, even jokes so bad I get hit by real swords (only with the flat, thankfully) or aggressively thrown erasers (true stories). If I had to write a product for publishing, however, I wouldn’t insert that kind of personal or situational comedy into the official text.
So, I freely admit I didn’t laugh when, for example, I read “your magic jar is a jar where you have farted at least 100 times. It is your ultimate secret weapon”, on a card. I sincerely appreciate the attempt to provide a child-friendly rescue device. As I have already explained above that I didn’t appreciate the precise transcription of the odd, childish style with which some of the NPCs express themselves.
This disconnect led me to doubt my understanding: who is the target audience of this adventure? If they are adult players, there are elements that are a bit childish, pranksters who may well clash a little with a 30+ year-old at the table. If the adventure was written with only children in mind, instead, then describing the monk as “I am too much in love with wine, beer and other intoxicants”, for example, I would have avoided. I realize that these are specific details and perhaps a matter of taste, but it takes little to create a more homogeneous feel.
A last thought about First Adventure
Looking at final conclusions, I realize the word count spent finding defects is greater than that spent praising it. Does this mean that the product is seriously deficient? Absolutely not! I always spend more words when criticizing in order to explain myself well and fully, to avoid misunderstandings. My final judgment on this product remains positive, however, albeit with reservations.
Regardless of my personal taste First Adventure is a product with beautiful images that tells a very pleasant and compelling story, full of imaginative and intriguing situations and descriptions. This is the core of my evaluation. The players at the table will surely have a good adventure and will remain satisfied and amused.
My only misgivings are for the DM who finds himself with a product that could have been laid out better, written with finer attention to details, and that has a narrative not really compatible with the reader’s expectations. These are all defects that can be avoided, however. Once the adventure is properly read and understood, the DM can make it his own and is free to offer it in the most congenial light. The quality of the product and its narrative potential remain intact.