Frugal GM Review: The Willowmere Vagabonds

Frugal GM Review: The Willowmere Vagabonds
A couple of months ago I was asked to review The Willowmere Vagabonds from The Merciless Merchants. This adventure goes for $7 on DriveThruRPG and is currently on sale for $5.95. Designed for 4-7 PCs of 2nd through 4th level, The Willowmere Vagabonds is written for the For Gold & Glory ruleset, but will work fine for any OSR game.

On my initial flip through a couple of things came up for me and on the more thorough read-through a couple more. Nothing was game-breaking or do-not-bother-to-pick-this-adventure-up, but some were things I'd not expect from an item at either the full or sale price point. The adventure is 62 pages long and is secured with a password, but this isn't an issue for this type of product.

The biggest issue I had with this adventure boils down to the layout and artistic choices made. This adventure has an odd mix of line art, grey-scale, and color pieces that look like they had some editing, but maybe not enough....and all overlapped on pages with an unnecessary background flourish.

The Willowmere Vagabonds Art Example
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a snapshot of page 4 of the PDF. I've deliberately blurred the body of the text and added some orange bits for emphasis. First off you can see the background page art which I think makes it a bit harder to read the text. Maybe if it was very faint and subtle it would work, but I think it is just a bit busy and really doesn't work. You can also see where the background of the art pieces used on this page haven't been edited so they are visually jarring. If the unneeded white space was removed some of the text could flow around the art instead of being blocked off.

Now this is just one page as an example, but in other places the text does flow around the art. Some pages have art that looks like it has been cropped more than it should have been, or re-sized (but not proportionately), or just not processed appropriately. If you look at the cover art you can see the low-resolution publisher logo and some white "noise" along the edges of the art. That shows on the DTRPG close-up preview.

Now the maps are a whole different matter. There are eight pages of maps that are quite garish in their use of color. Three maps use square grids and five use hex grids and it looks like mostly inside maps are squares and outside hexes. Realistically these are not maps I'd want to print up for use at the table because they'd be ink hogs and not useful enough.

My last gripe when it comes to the adventure is still a bit artwork related. There are a lot of widows & orphans. In general the layout looks like it wasn't tweaked to make things easier to read. There wasn't a table of contents, which might have helped with a 62 page document, nor are there any bookmarks to help with navigation. There are a lot of full-page or half-page illustrations. Instead of the artwork helping fill-in empty space generated by making the sections flow better, it looks like they were just thrown in a bit.

I realize that so far this review seems to be bashing on The Willowmere Vagabonds a bit, but I was asked to give "a review and some feedback so that I can submit quality products to gamers." So the artwork and editing can use some work. I actually did like the adventure and only found one thing that left me scratching my head.....something easily just ignored or hand-waved by the GM. This adventure doesn't have anything so system or game-world specific that you couldn't easily tweak it to meet your own OSR game needs, which is great.

Frugal GM 3 Star Review: The Willowmere VagabondsThere is a new monster, a new spell, and a new PC template. All of these seem well-balanced and would be something I'd be willing to introduce to my own campaign.

The only peculiarity with regards to the writing I found (not counting the minor head-scratcher) is that there is one.....one read-aloud text box. Regardless of a GM's personal preference for read-aloud text I figure, from a writer's viewpoint, you either use them or you don't....just be consistent.

Overall I think The Willowmere Vagabonds was a good adventure in need of some better editing and art direction. I don't think this adventure is worth $7 as-is, but with some clean-up and polishing, and new maps, it could be.


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