Review: Bears Fruit
a fun module I hacked and ran for my friends
a fun module I hacked and ran for my friends
I was looking for a one-shot to run for my gaming group when I stumbled across jojiro’s Bears Fruit: A 10K-Word Solo Adventure for B/X.
A prosperous orchard has been cursed and has been swallowed up into the bowels of the earth. Strange bears smelling of rotten fruit have been emerging from the orchard-turned-dungeon to menace the town, and you’ve been hired to remove the curse!
I took a quick look at it and loved it, and decided to run it for my friends. Despite it being a solo adventure. And despite it being written for Old-School Essentials, a system I knew I wouldn’t be using.
There are two considerations when converting this adveture: converting from solo to group play, and converting from OSE to some other system.
This part was easy. I basically did nothing.
The adventure is written to augment the solo adventurer’s party with hired followers, retainers, etc. So I decided that one adventurer + a bunch or retainers should equal 3 - 4 adventureres.
So, my group has basically only ever played D&D 5th Edition. I wanted to run something with as little prep / set-up time as possible. (I did not want to take the time to walk everybody through 5e character creation.)
I looked as OSE and Basic/Expert, and the still seemed to complicated with class / race decisions, and rolling stats, etc.
I next considered Knave and Maze Rats because they are classless and “highly OSR compatible” and have better / novel magic systems. But I feared that they would feel just similar enough to D&D that it might be confusing.
Finally, I considered too light systems I’ve been playing a lot lately: Troika, and Tunnel Goons. (To be more precise, I’ve been playing a Tunnel Goons hack called Smithy of Sacrilege by Sean Smith. Link below.)
Tunnel Goons is probably exactly what I wanted out of this one-shot: nearly zero prep, nearly instant character creation, simple conflict resolution.
But I feared it might be too radical of a departure from 5e crunch for my players. Especially for the Pathfinder fan.
So, I went with Troika because I love it, and I thought its baked in weirdness might go well with the fae / underdark setting of the underground bear orchard.
I also decided to use an alternate initiative system, because Troika’s can be a little clunky to implement, and also I’m not that into to single-turn initiative right now.
I can’t remember where I read it, but I had just seen an initiative system where you roll a dice: odd number = party goes first, even number = monsters go first. And you roll for each round, which keeps it fresh because one side might get to go twice in a row.
Ultimately I ditched even/odd mechanic after realizing that getting to go twice in a row doesn’t really matter that much in Troika because of how either side can end up doing damage to the other based on rolls, regardless of whose “turn” it is. So we just did all heroes go, all monsters go.
I spent a lot of time searching for guides on how to convert Basic/Expert creatures to Troika, but didn’t find anything.
Initially, I made a weak attempt at converting the creatures, but in the end just picked and reskinned creatures from the Troika beastiary based on just kind of eyeballing their relative toughness.
|HD 3 (13 hp)
|3 Stamina (HD +/- )
|AC 6 
|2 Armour (AC, but capped at 2 - 3)
|#AT 3 (1 bite, 2 claws): 1d6/1d3/1d3
|3 Initiative (equal to #AT
|Move 120’ (40’)
|2 Skill: Save - 10, maybe divided by 2?
|n/a, but just keep it, because I like this mechanic
|Mein (Make something up)
Despite my attempts at converting by hand, and then picking roughly equal creatures from the bestiary, the creatures in this module were way too easy. Even the one part of the adventure that is supposed to be a possible TPK, they cleaned the floor and were never in any real danger.
Okay, actual review of Bears Fruit.
Mind you, I used this adventure in ways it was never meant to be used, so none of this might be fair or correct.
But I loved it.
The atmosphere is great. I love the “corrupted grove” motif and the zombie ants and the bear trees.
The “Single Roll Discovery” mechanic means that you can replay it and have different experiences each time.
Creating two separate docs for the game and for the protocols keeps things a mystery. As a DM, I read the game doc thoroughly ahead of time, but decided not to read any of the protocols, so a lot of the game was a surprise to me too as we played through it. Because of this and the Single Roll Discovery, I am motivated to play it again once or twice by myself as a solo game, as intended.
There was nothing bad about this game, but there are parts of it that felt a little inaccessible during one-shot play:
Despite the mayor telling them to come back and check in often, my players never left the mound / orchard once they entered “dungeon crawl mode”, so they missed out on traveling merchants
They missed out on some of the story by not triggering some encounters. But I read the story to them as an epilogue, and they seemed satisfied with that.
My party of three rolled up a Thaumaturge, a Zoanthrope, and a Gremlin Catcher. Which is pretty much equal to rolling a wizard, fighter, and thief. So they were really well rounded.
In the village of Arboroso (get it?), for their pre-adventure activities, the wizard chose to do some piety and got some potions and a side-quest.
The thief and fighter decided to do some carousing. The thief offended the merchants, jacking up market prices. And the fighter got turned into a goat by a witch.
They got the glass aphids from the mayor, and went shopping in the marketplace.
I didn’t have an items list handy, so I used the Merchant Tables from Technical Grimoire (link below) with the prices adjusted to a d6 from a d20 to set prices for things they wanted.
They hiked to the mound and made it inside. The goat / fighter drank from a pool and suffered the curse of the Snake Tailed Tortoise and fused with a nearby giant ant, becoming a goat / ant hybrid. (As a Zoanthrope, he was already somewhat animal-like to begin with, and in fact had decided that he was a sort of otter-kin, so by now the player is loving being a mutant monstrosity.)
They make it to the portal room without much incident and arrive in the cursed orchard and pocket heaps of treasure.
There’s a choke point where they have to fight a dozen zombie ants, which should pose a lethal threat, but the thaumaturge cast Grow on the “gant” fighter and the gremlin catcher (who happens to be extremely skilled at tunnel fighting) and they clean house.
Through the cursed orchard, it’s trippy and wild. They meet some kobolds drunk on mushroom wine, and reenact a scene from Men In Tights with a burly dryad who insists on collecting a toll before they cross his bridge.
In one cavern, they discover a river flowing the from the eye of a giant skeleton. The goat-ant abomination decides to bathe in the water, which cures him of all curses, instantly restoring him to his original humanoid form.
He is devastated.
They eventually make it to the heart of the orchard and find the body of the mayor’s son. They bury the body, and the aphids, and then beat feet back to the portal, and back to the village.
They report back to the mayor, who pays them and acts a little too casual upon receiving news of his son’s death.
The game ends. I reveal the backstory, and they contemplate how they destroyed a magical grove and basically aided the mayor in covering up a murder.
The module is great. I’d run it again for a group of players, and I’d play it again solo by myself. Five out of five stars. Do recommend.
Bears Fruit: https://jojiro.itch.io/bears-fruit
Merchant Tables from Technical Grimoire:
AD&D Random Treasure Generator: https://donjon.bin.sh/adnd/treasure/
Old-School Essentials (Basic Rules): https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/272802/OldSchool-Essentials-Basic-Rules
Maze Rats: https://questingbeast.itch.io/maze-rats
Tunnel Goons: https://natetreme.itch.io/tunnelgoons
Smithy of Sacrilege: https://seanfsmith.itch.io/puffin