The Bone Alchemist
by Gaz Bowerbank
$4.99 on Dungeon Master’s Guild
Undoubtedly, the game I return to year after year is Dungeons and Dragons, in whatever format it comes at the time. As I have got older I have started to really see the value in pre-written adventures, as time restrictions bite. When the lads at The Smart Party published a scenario for low-level play, I was intrigued and tapped them for a copy. So with the disclosure that I didn’t pay for this, and I am a patron of their podcast, do they have the scenario to back up their advice from the podcast?
The adventure sees a group of 1st level adventurers caught up in the hunt for a missing Prince who had disappeared across the sea, searching for a cure for his beloved pet. In so doing, they become embroiled with bandits, pirates, malicious guards and the titular Bone Alchemist.
The first thing that struck me about the adventure is that it really hammers home the spectacular fantasy that you can have in D&D, regardless of the level. Why have another dungeon as a series of caves or a small fort, when you could have the semi-submerged corpse of a rotting kraken? Why have someone on a ship when they can be riding a dragon turtle? Why have the PCs doing work for a strange old man in a tavern when they can be working for the Royal Family. I have always advocated this level of full-throated fantasy in my fantasy and I’m thrilled to see it here.
Another thing that the adventure does exceptionally well is attention to detail. There are environmental cues throughout the scenario, that add proper flavour to the piece and an alternative challenge for the PCs to combat after combat. They also add another dimension for the GM to consider as they frame the scenes. It’s great practice and good to see represented so prominently
The entire scenario is set in a pseudo-‘Arabian Nights’ setting which could easily fit into many different game worlds (and indeed, some are suggested in the introduction.) This scenario could easily fit into any sword-and-sorcery style game, I think – the starting city could be Sartar-La in Lemuria, any number of locations in Conan or even an interpretion of Cataclysm in King of Dungeons. The writing does lean into this flavour but if you wanted to change to flavour of the adventure, it wouldn’t take much effort at all.
The story takes the PCs from first level to third level through milestone levelling, and then opens up a number of alternative routes for the PCs to continue their adventures. Once again, there is attention to detail here, with the suggested paths covering all manner of outcomes from the adventure. This is an great example of an adventure written to be ran and presenting all of the tools that a GM, new or experienced, would need to run it well.
So what’s the conclusion? I like this adventure – a lot. Not just because it is a fun adventure that embraces all of the magnificent silliness of D&D at its best, but also because it is presented as a toolbox of best practice in writing a scenario to be run, rather than read – and for your $4.99 what more can you ask?