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Arden Vul review and experiences

Our D&D campaign has been on hiatus for two months now but when we last left off, we were 64 sessions deep into Arden Vul (and 254 #boatmode sessions into the Crowded Sea era) after I-lost-count-but-probably-close-to-two-hundred sessions elsewhere in the same world.

My take on Arden Vul is that “the content” itself (the locations, the factions, the items, the creatures) isn’t that good, and there’s some difficult themes (like slave labor). The design is what’s good, great even. Running it has been the best D&D experience of my life.

I’ve played other “big campaigns” before, like a mashup of Veins of the Earth and Ruins of the Grendelroot that could be never ending since there’s so much generative stuff, but what makes Arden Vul different is that it’s so interconnected. It’s not like The Ocarina of Time, subworlds sharply separated. It’s one big sponge where it all hooks up, not just with passages but with actual reasons pulling you across them.

Y’all know about the “three tiers of truth”:

  1. Prepped facts
  2. Generated facts
  3. Made-up-on-the-spot facts

Arden Vul is heavy on the prepped facts which is cumbersome but enables so much interconnectivity. As just one example (out of dozens of such examples per session), someone’s shoe is missing in one room and that shoe then actually is somewhere else in this ginormous dungeon. There are books and rings and… ugh, I shouldn’t’ve mentioned the rings because that’s a problem here. This book puts the awesomest most mindblowing stuff in the hands of the most pushover, easy-to-kill villains. Again, the setup and overall construction and sheer tier-one–ness is what makes this so awesome, not the content itself.

It’s clear that a lot of the stuff is autogenerated or copy-pasted, for example there are pre-rolled hitpoints and stats for monster groups and we see the same stats over and over again.

Here is another review, from Shoggoth Dragged In:

everything is interconnected, and the interesting stuff isn’t gated behind being deep in the dungeon. […] You can find something interesting in Arden Vul and just start working away at it, unlike some dungeons where you can’t really make progress beyond a certain point without being high level.”

This is absolutely true! I didn’t think of that. It gives you interesting stuff throughout the entire thing (the valley that the dungeon is in has hooks also). You’re immediately an acting force upon the world in a level-appropriate way, you’re not just walking through halls of orcs and nothingness. I wrote above that the content is kinda meh but compared to many other megas where the first few levels are beyond meh in their boringness, this is a sparkling gem!

Descriptions tend to be long and wordy, and the PDF isn’t hyperlinked, which makes skimming through things at the table a little tricky at times.

Yeah. It’d been OK since I used an app to create hyperlinks (not all thousand pages in advance, just hyperlinking as we went and the nearest areas where we were). I was making bidirectional links between the map and the text, which are in separate files. The problem with that is that if this iPad breaks I’d be out of luck since the app is proprietary and there’s no back-up of cross-file links.

They’ve played 24 sessions, so a little over a third of what we’ve done at 64 in terms of session count.

As far as map coverage goes, we’ve done less than 10% of the whole thing while Shoggoth Dragged In’s group has done, I dunno, a fourth or a fifth of what we’ve explored. Maybe they’re more thorough? We’ve also done a ton of things throughout Burdock Valley (renamed “Dabab Island” in our campaign) and the ruined city and the Broken Head.

We’ve also had a ton more deaths. Maybe they’re more careful, too?

We’ve pretty much exhausted level one, barely touched level two, done around half of level three (kicked out the hobbits and now there are geeba there instead, whom the party has allied with), explored most of level four (and they’ve defeated the Set cult and are now the new rules of the forum, with a lot of employees and mercenaries, having stopped the slave trade).

The players like to travel back to Gosterwick after every big haul to deposit their loot in the bank, level up, and spend a few days resting. They also favour short delves.

This could be it! Our group goes to Gosterwick way more seldom.

He also reveals his tech stack! They have an interesting set up (three monitors?) that seems more thorough than mine. I’ve been running off one iPad with Jitsi and Flexcil. Jitsi can handle XMPP bots so we have a dicebot there.

I used to be a complete luddite at the gaming table, all electronics banned, which got more and more cumbersome as the pile of location books and modules and spell books that were canon in our game grew and grew and grew. When pandemic hit and forced remote play it took me months to finally make the switch. But running this campaign digitally has in some ways been easier than our previous analog game. I get it that #boatmode is an overly ambitious, maximalist game. Looking forward to something simpler next time. Cthulhu Dark or something.

The treasure situation is not good.

Arden Vul is a world where copper pieces preciously do matter because getting them is what so many interactions are designed around, and simultaneously tediously don’t matter because each was stick is like five hundred gems anyway. “You manage to solve six puzzles and spend three days (three days diegetically. That’d be maybe thirty, forty minutes of table time) slogging through a dozen encounters of the exact same 3d2 skeletons type and you manage to find a secrer compartment containing a… copper torque. Worth 1d10 × 10 fels. 0.00002% of a was stick. And you have thirty was sticks. So… 🥳🤔❓”

Date of Expiration was better in that regard with the wire-based loot system.