Review: The Rumbling Forest
The Rumbling Forest is a 31-page adventure for Cairn and Mangayaw created for the 2023 A Town, A Forest, A Dungeon Jam.
In Short: This adventure is simply excellent: a living, breathing forest full of dark caves and strange forces; complex factions; a wealth of quests; and a looming danger to bring everything crashing together.
Adventure Summary: The forest is in tension between the conquistadors with their stone magic, firearms, and woodcutters, the Tawo, stuck between these invading colonizers and an unhappy forest turning against them, and the forest itself, trying to return things to their natural balance. In the background, a boar injured by a conquistador is dying and causing earthquakes. Players may explore the forest, meeting and interacting with these factions and their representatives and exploring numerous caves. But, the longer they explore, the closer they get to the final earthquake and a boar stampede that will destroy everything in its path. Fraught moral dilemmas await those who can't bring peace to the forest before this impending disaster.
What I Liked: I've taken much longer than I intended to on this review, in large part because there is just so much in this module and it is all so good. But, I'll try to narrow it down to the real highlights.
The setting with the standoff between the conquistadors and the Tawo is rich with possibilities for interesting roleplay. As a slight personal digression, for my day job, I'm an archaeologist focusing on the Mariana Islands, where I lived for several years. Although 2,000 miles east of the Philippines, the inspiration for this adventure, they share a similar colonial history, and I personally find a setting like this immensely compelling as a vehicle for exploring the incredibly problematic history of these interactions, which are still shaping life in places like this to the present day. Apart from my personal interest, however, the factions at play in this setting are well fleshed out with complex and competing desires, knowledge, and resources sure to provoke tense decision points for players.
Second only behind the setting is the landscape itself. The use of caves as the dungeon locations, natural and supernatural dangers, and the threat of the boars looming over everything combine to give it a very coherent ecology. The location feels very grounded and realistic despite the supernatural elements. Simply put, nothing feels out of place, and everything seems to be working well together.
Related to these two earlier points, everything is well set up to provide ample player agency throughout their explorations. It seems clear that the adventure will take shape and hinge around the decisions players make at each point as they meet new actors and face new challenges, with even the results of the inevitable boar stampede contingent on how they choose to deal with the threat.
I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention that the writing is rich but concise and very well organized and laid out. I don't think I'd have any real problems picking this up and running it pretty quickly.
What I Didn't Like: I would love to see some art to complement the quality of the setting and writing here, but I know all too well how expensive that can get, so I don't see that as a real detriment in this case considering how good it is without it.