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Friday, 4 December 2015

We Be Goblins Free!


We Be Goblins! is clearly a very popular adventure module. Published by Paizo for 2011's Free RPG Day, it has, not surprisingly, resulted in two sequels: We Be Goblins Too! in 2013 and now, We Be Goblins Free!, each for its year's respective Free RPG Day. PDF versions of all three adventures are available for free from Paizo's website.

We Be Goblins! is certainly deserving of its popularity. It's an inventive, fun, and funny adventure. We Be Goblins Too! is similarly fun and funny, although as I point out in my review (linked above), it does suffer a bit from being too similar to We Be Goblins! However, if they're not played back-to-back, both adventures can remain extremely entertaining. We Be Goblins Free! is...well...just like its two predecessors. Unfortunately, it's reaching a point where the repetition starts to become stale, even with gaps between playing the adventures. Perhaps it's time to do something new with the goblin adventures. Or even bring them to an end.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

We Be Goblins Free! follows the exact same format as the previous two adventures. It starts with some goblin-style games for the PCs to take part in, then a short quest where they face and defeat various monsters. We Be Goblins Free! does add an extra encounter back in the goblin village at the end, but it's a very minor variation in the general format.

Of course, these goblin adventures aren't meant to be played as a campaign. They're meant for groups that want a change of pace. Each adventure can generally be played in a single session. They can be used when groups are between campaigns or even just during gaps in an ongoing campaign—when groups feel they need a little break from the usual or they just want to do something different. As such, the repetition in these adventures is not nearly as egregious as it might be if they were part of a continuing campaign and run one after the other. There's lots of time to do other things in between them. And if you play any one of them on its own without ever playing the others, it will likely provide a very fun session.

However, the three adventures are also meant to form a larger story (if a simplistic one), with each one carrying on from where the last one left off. By the third, it starts to become apparent that pretty much the same things happen in every adventure and much of the appeal starts to fall away. It's like hearing the same joke again and again. Regardless of the amount of time between them, each telling of the joke is a little less funny than the last time. Eventually, the joke loses its comedic value altogether. We Be Goblins Free! is definitely starting to suffer from this problem.

At the end of We Be Goblins Too!, the PCs become chieftain and subchieftains of the Birdcruncher tribe. We Be Goblins Free! begins a few months later, with the PCs having grown bored of their new positions (We Be Goblins Free! refers to them all being chieftains, rather than one being chieftain and the others subchieftains like in We Be Goblins Too!). They want their subjects to provide them with adventure, so the Birdcrunchers prepare a grand feast, during which they try to entertain their chieftains and possibly find them an adventure.

So we get the usual opening section of goblin games and entertainment. The first of these is actually the funniest part of the adventure—but alas, the shortest. In this, one of the Birdcruncher goblins decides to regale his chieftains with the tale of “The Green Goblin King”, which is basically Gawain and the Green Knight. He decides the tale is best acted out, with him playing the part of the Green Goblin King. He offers the chieftains the opportunity to cut off his head with the agreement that he can chop off their heads afterwards. Of course, this goblin hasn't thought things through and after the PCs cut his head off, he dies (he gets very angry if they refuse to cut his head off) and that's the end of the story (perhaps not so bad as he apparently has a really hard time remembering what comes after the decapitation part of the story anyway—he finds the rest of the story boring).

The remaining amusements are more typical of the previous goblin adventures, including a race with the PCs riding goblin dogs, a game where the PCs try to set straw effigies afire using fireworks, and a game of “killgull”, in which they have to stone a bird to death. The bird (a vulture in this case) is kept from flying too far away by a piece of twine.

During the amusements, Squealy Nord—the pig from the previous two adventures, who has now become the animal companion of Poog, one of the PCs—returns on his own from a truffle hunt. However, he didn't set out on the hunt alone, so the PCs suddenly have a new quest to find out what happened to the goblins who went with Squealy Nord.

Finding out what happened to the truffle hunters turns out to be relatively simple. They were killed by a group of Sczarni bandits. The PCs track down the bandits fairly easily and then have a couple of essentially random encounters (with an assassin vine and a harpy) after that as they collect truffles for themselves and eventually return to their tribe. By “random”, I don't mean literally randomly rolled, as they are scripted encounters. Rather, there isn't really any linking story to them. Instead, they just happen to occupy the areas the goblin PCs pass through.

This is one area where We Goblins Free! is considerably weaker than its predecessors. In the previous two adventures there was more of a cohesion with the encounters, and more specifically, there was a more tangible goal for the PCs. Here, there really isn't anything motivating the PCs other than boredom.

Upon returning to the Birdcrunchers, the PCs have another of these basically random encounters when they discover one of the straw effigies from the earlier games has spontaneously animated and is attacking all their subjects. It turns out that the materials used to make the effigy were scavenged from the sites of the PCs' victories from the previous adventures (as an attempt to celebrate those accomplishments). However, one of those things is the skull of Vorka, the villain from the first We Be Goblins! adventure. Vorka's spirit has animated the effigy and now she seeks revenge.

Honestly, this final encounter just seems to come out of nowhere, as do all the encounters after the Sczarni bandits. There is really nothing thematically linking them other than “Let's kill stuff!” I suppose there's a certain appeal to “Let's kill stuff!” but combined with the repetitive nature of the adventure's format, there doesn't seem to be much point.

It's a bit of a shame, as I love the original We Be Goblins! I've run it twice now, each time with a different group, and both groups have enjoyed it immensely. However, We Be Goblins Free! just doesn't add anything new to the series. It's the same old thing for the third time in a row. It's not a terrible adventure and played by itself, without ever playing the first two, it's probably quite entertaining. Otherwise, it's like a joke that's been told one too many times. It's just not that funny any more.

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