Salt and Sacrifice
My first small-batch review. Hopefully I’ll get to do more in the future. But first some quick stats.
SALT AND SACRIFICE
A Dungeons & Dragons (5E) adventure for 3-5 level 1 characters. By Jerry LeNeave and Ben Menard. Originally made for Shadow of the Demon Lord. Get it.
Black Candle Games
7 pg. PDF (4 pg. of content)
On seaside cults…
It’s a tough business sacrificing villagers to fish-gods. It seems like everyday there’s a new blood sepulchre trying to get us to visit. Which is why when an adventure about cults and Totally Not Deep Ones pops up, we have to compare it to the last one, and ask, “Is this worth it?” There are hundreds of adventures about blood mists and lighthouses. Why pick this one?
Salt and Sacrifice has exactly 7 pages to be honest about what it is. And good news: it doesn’t lie. It’s a 2-hour adventure that takes no prep and there are Totally Not Deep Ones in it. Technically, I had to read it from start to finish, but if it’s less than 10 pages I won’t complain. (But one more page and all bets are off.)
This adventure slots easily into campaigns it matches tonally . The setting, Selkie Rock, is like a grain of salt on the map. That means it won’t be terraforming your fantasy world. As for the tone, this adventure was made with Shadow of the Demon Lord in mind, which means the keyboard was mostly slime and sinew when they typed it. If your campaign is about the power of friendship and love, keep Selkie out of it.
But how does it play? It plays fine. It’s a dollhouse of Totally Not Deep Ones making corpses and eating them. The saving grace, because it’s short and uncomplicated, is that you can insert your own tension and alternatives – but that’s not something this game can boast. It’s one-note. Rooms are filled with gore. Sometimes the gore is being eaten. Sometimes characters make saving throws because of the gore being eaten.
About that, this adventure has two prominent design decisions. First, it uses the rules for madness from the Dungeon Master’s Guide. D&D’s alternative to sanity. I don’t like it. D&D’s design philosophy, “make something worse and leave the rest to role play,” is a poor substitute for dedicated sanity rules like the kind in Trail of Cthulhu or Shadows.
The second decision is an onslaught of saving throws. Players will be rolling for three things in this adventure. Trying to kill them. Killing them. Trying not be killed by them. As a result, most rolls are made to prevent something from happening, instead of making something else – anything else – happen. (Unless of course it’s killing. Did I mention killing?) Boring. You can only describe combat so much before players go on autopilot. They’re just going to hit it with an axe anyway.
Something to steal:
This adventure’s monsters, the gleran, are styled after angler fish. Glowing lure and all. This is a great visual to pull from. It means players have a unifying idea of what it looks like. It also happens to be smarter and cooler than modeling them after cod or bass. Take note, other cult adventure mongers. There are other fish in the sea.
Something to fix:
The glerans are overpowered for their challenge rating. With over 30 hit points a piece, they’re tanks. My suggestion: use them sparingly at the beginning. Then drown the characters in weak swarms when you need more action. Be ready to reduce their hit points. Otherwise combat will be a slog or murder for level 1 characters.
And friendly rituals…
So what’s the good news? Its visuals are solid. It doesn’t carpet bomb us with art or use gaudy paper textures because that’s “what you’re supposed to do.” The layout and typography are good. Above average. The section headers are chunky and thematic. The size ratios of different section headers telegraph hierarchy and look good. The body copy is a legible serif that pairs well with the section headers.
More good news, the writing doesn’t make me want to attend a book burning. There are several glimmers of originality in this adventure’s descriptions. Most of them sourced from real-life deep sea critters. If you’re familiar with those, you’ll get more out of this adventure. I’m especially pleased by the idea of decapitated barreleye fish being used like candles. Gross. And a halved skull being held together by a jelly-like tadpole passenger? Pleasantly disgusting.
The storytelling isn’t inspired or novel. This is standard issue “seaside town with a cult infestation” With exception of a few shining copy lines, most of this adventure is indistinguishable from the others. I’ll forgive it. It’s serviceable and knows I’m not there to read their HBO pilot. And it has no dreams of winning the Hugo. It wants me to play – and that is why I’m reviewing it.
Super easy to read. Easy to reference. It’s loose and concise enough for me to fill in gaps and punch up. Most D&D adventures serve bad visuals, horrible layout, and self-indulgent prose. I’d have to really dig to get to the real garbage and not the decoy garbage. This adventure respectfully doesn’t do that.
Buy or not buy?
It’s $1.99. Even less when it’s on sale. If you need a quick horror adventure about fish monsters, this does the job. I wish it had a preview but there isn’t one. (Boo! Boo, I say.) Edit: There is a great preview for the original Shadow of the Demon Lord version (and it’s very good).
When there are hundreds of adventures, every purchase is like voting. Your purchase tells the community what it should make. I vote for more adventures that use good layout and minimal flourishes. This one does that. Maybe their next adventure will have better ideas, thanks to their layout, it won’t be hard to find out.
I use my cut of the profits to shotgun coffee.