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Review of Tankard Tales: Willowbark by Myth Merchant Press

willowbark coverAdventure settings are gaining some notoriety these days.  Rather than presenting material as a full-blown module, adventure settings offer a Dungeon Master a site for their heroes to explore, and offer ideas and hooks for DMs to invent their own quests and delves.

[Editor’s Note: I recently reviewed a couple adventure settings last month – check out the EN World Reviews of Brother Ptolemy & the Hidden Kingdom and WotC’s Vor Rukoth as additional examples of this type of supplement.]

But adventure settings for 4E have been around for a while, and Myth Merchant Press created one of the first back in 2008 entitled Tankard Tales: Willowbark.  This adventure was the first of a series of two adventure settings – see also EN World Review – Tankard Tales: The Comeback Inn -both of which take place at a rather unique and unusual inn!

Tankard Tales: Willowbark

  • Author: Steven Muchow
  • Illustrators: Steven Muchow
  • Publisher: Myth Merchant Press
  • Year: 2008
  • Media: PDF (15 pages)
  • Retail Cost: $2.95

Tankard Tales: Willowbark is an adventure setting designed for use with D&D 4E and compatible for use in almost any fantasy world.  The adventure setting contains information on the unique inn called Willowbark, and includes a complete full scale map which can be reproduced and used at the gaming table.  In addition, there are tavern rumors (adventure hooks) and two encounters designed for use as “adventure seeds” to begin quests of a Dungeon Masters own devising.

Production Quality

The production quality of Tankard Tales: Willowbark is quite good, with some sharp writing by the author and really nice cartography for the printable maps.  It should be noted that the monsters in the encounters use the old pre-MM3 format, as the adventure setting was written at the tail end of 2008, and DMs might want to create newer stat blocks of the critters for their own use.

There is no table of contents or PDF bookmarks in Tankard Tales: Willowbark, but since about half of the 15 pages of the adventure setting are maps, navigation through the contents should not prove too difficult for readers.

The maps presented in Tankard Tales: Willowbark are really beautifully rendered, and fit together into a fairly good sized poster map of this unique inn setting.  The designer also included a sheet of properly scaled inn furnishings – tables, chairs, stools and the like – which can be used on other maps and dungeon tiles, and makes a nice bit of bonus material.

The Inn

The first part of Tankard Tales: Willowbark describes a rather fantastical inn which has been built high up in the boughs of a massive willow tree.  Designed to be used on the frontier of civilization, most likely near elven lands, this inn makes for a great “must-see” location for adventurers to visit.  There is detailed information on the inn itself, as well as a listing of rates for room and boards – including a menu of food and drinks!

The author also provides descriptions and background information on the four main staff members of the inn – the ownder, the cook, the head waitress and the bouncer.  Obviously, being a local “tourist trap” and watering hole, there is likely to be other wait staff, cooks, and maids serving the customers, however the author leaves that for further development by individual DMs.

Not surprisingly, one of the staff has a dark secret which is detailed by the author, and even the inn itself is not what it seems to be.  This information is detailed in two sections – Tavern Rumors and Tavern Secrets – which provide enough content for most DMs to create adventures and quests appropriate for the heroes in their campaigns.  Further, there are two “adventure seeds” provided by the author, in the form of a couple of for the Heroic and Paragon Tier encounters, which can be used to jump-start a quest or used as one-shot side treks.

The Adventure Seeds

The Heroic Tier adventure, called The Plane Test, involves shutting down a generator that a wizard has used to shift the adventurers accidentally to the Feywild.  Monsters begin pouring into the inn and only by fixing the generator can they return.  This is a 4th Level Encounter and appropriate for the early heroic tier, and has both combat elements (monster groups) as well as a skill challenge (shut down the broken machine).

The malfunctioning arcane machine (hazard) acts sort of like a monster generator in the old “Gauntlet” video game.  But unlike the arcade version, this monster generator can generate three different encounter groups – a pack of dire porcupines, a band of goblins, and a mixed group of dungeon dwellers.  It also has a couple attacks it visits on heroes who attempt to tinker with it and fail their skill check.  As this adventure was published prior to changes in the Skill Challenge DCs from the Update and the Rules Compendium, the DCs will have to be adjusted to be appropriate for a 3rd level challenge.

This one-shot adventure is fairly well balanced, and most parties should be able to succeed in the skill challenge while fighting only one encounter – the machine’s monster summoning recharges 1 time in 6.  Win or lose, the heroes will find themselves unharmed, as the entire fight was a test by the local adventuring guild to see if they are ready to be offered a billet in their organization.

However, it should be noted that the Paragon Tier adventure in Tavern Tales: Willowbark is quite a bit more grim!  In The Tipping Point, heroes are pitted against a pack of nasty monsters sent to kill the local adventuring guild which is meeting at the inn.  This encounter presents the Characters with the challenge of trying to save not only themselves, but the inn’s patrons as well.

The encounter is designed as an 11th Level fight using stock monsters from the 4E Monster Manual – three brutes, a soldier, and an artillery type monster.  Fair warning: Dungeon Masters might want to think about some monster substitutions, as using newer versions of these beasties might make for a bit of long fight.  The fight does have some interesting elements in it which makes it both interesting and challenging.  First, the inn was blown open at the start, raining a mass of patrons to the ground but leaving the adventurers 15-20 feet above the fight clinging to the wreckage.  Getting down and into the fray presents a fun challenge, and the heroes have a chance to pull some swashbuckling feats as they enter combat.  Second, the mass of patrons is a hazard in itself, and entering it will hamper heroes who must contend with a mob of panicky injured people.

Overall, I liked the two one-shot adventures, although recent rules changes will almost certainly require alterations to the encounters to bring them up-to-date.  These encounters are nicely designed to use as opening adventures in a longer quest series, or just as stand-alone fights.

Overall Grade: A-

Tavern Tales: Willowbark is a definitely a really nifty adventure setting, containing not only some fun content, but can also serve as a base of operations for an adventuring band of heroes in almost any campaign setting.  The writing is very good, even if the encounters will need a bit of re-working to update them up to current D&D 4E rules, and the maps are beautifully designed to provide a backdrop of a fascinating locale.  Given the very modest price for what this PDF offers, Tavern Tales: Willowbark is an awesome buy – even if DMs have to print the maps themselves.

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Editor’s Note: This Blog’s Author received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.

Grade Card

  • Presentation: A-
  • - Design: B+
  • - Illustrations: A
  • Content: A-
  • -Crunch: B+
  • -Fluff: A
  • Value: A

About The Author

Editor-in-Chief
Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.

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