20 February 2019

Hot Springs Island Mini-review After 6 sessions


HSI was not for me. I had fun with it. My players liked it. They seemed surprised that I wanted to move on at first, but they quickly and accurately pointed out why they thought I wanted to. All of this probably says as much about me as a GM as it does about the book. I'll explain below.

I run my own rules, but they're similar to OD&D and B/X and Lamentations of the Flame Princess and so on. I have a lot of oldschool ideas about things, but I only started playing tabletop imagination games a couple of years ago.

Jacob Hurst loves discussing your problems and complaints. I talked with him about most of this. His answers made it very clear to me that basically everything I complain about would not have been a problem if I was a different sort of GM.


  • Great layout.
  • Great faction stuff and political play. Fun gonzo setting and ideas, if you go for elementals and planar stuff.
  • Encourages GM discretion and improvisation.
  • Hexcrawl rules that make things much simpler.
  • Players had a great time
  • Endless tools for escalation and chaos.
  • It's dense. It's enough material for a (probably somewhat short) campaign.

Things that didn't suit me but might suit you

  • No stats or item pricing. System-neutral.
  • The island is all about overabundance. This is intentional and an interesting change of pace. One of the dungeons is basically made out of gold, for example. Inserting resource management requires some major alterations. This problem isn't a problem if the GM realized it and alters the game to make gold worthless. HSI can focus on barter instead. Barter should be at the forefront of the game.
  • Juvenile sex humor throughout. It's metal!
  • A lot of it doesn't work very well in a different or larger campaign. HSI is designed to be your campaign.

Clarity/Density Issue

  • Some things are not clear. Example: There's a secret door hidden under an object, but there are no details about how the players might discover that the door exists. The books says that a chime opens it, but there are no specific chimes, so  you may be confused about where they would find the chime. You can make up a chime and put it somewhere and create a hook, but you may not realize you need to do this until the players are already at the door. For this reason, I recommend reading far ahead and trying to notice details of this nature OR I recommend being ready to make things up and do something different than the text intends/expects/suggests.
  • The denseness of HSI requires that you be ready to make things up when you don't know them. If you're the right sort, that's perfectly, wonderfully, fine. If you're more like me, you'll feel like you're missing something and ruining something that could have been great if you only knew the details. This will cause either analysis paralysis or moving on with your own take on things.

Complaints about encounters

  • You have to do a TON of rolling and interpretation for random encounters. You can't leave a hex or leave a room without a new encounter occurring. (Rolling on Chartopia and then printing out lots of results ahead of time is a decent workaround.)
  • HSI isn't about wandering through mostly abandoned spaces and occasionally encountering a wandering monster. There is ALWAYS something alive there to deal with. Jacob Hurst told me that he doesn't do reaction rolls and that he just intended for the creatures to react to each other, not to the party. He also said that the creatures don't see the players because the players always spot them first rather than rolling surprise, initiative, and distance. The book does not make these deviations from oldschool play clear. I think this is another result of being system-neutral.
  • Details on random encounters: every single room and every single hex contains at least one encounter. You're supposed to use a slightly complicated 3d6 mechanism to determine which encounter is where. The final result should be a lively, active island. Personally, I found it cumbersome/time-consuming.
  • To add to the encounter confusion, there are almost no doors in dungeons, so monsters should be coming around corners to join whatever (possibly massive) encounter you're already engaged in.


  1. The "ton of rolling for encounters" thing is a trend I'm seeing in a lot of OSR material. I don't want to pause the game to roll 12d12 and arrange them based on physical distance from my left hand. I just want an encounter.

    1. I'm not sure if seen it elsewhere and I read a lot of stuff Where have you encountered it ?

    2. Use the tables as part of your prep.

    3. I did that every session, Daniel.

  2. I appreciate the critical perspective on a module that I draw a lot of inspiration from. Helps us all develop as a community of designers!

  3. These are essentially my issues with HSI as well, though I also have a great fondness for it for the reasons you mentioned.

  4. Good and useful review. Appreciate the commentary on what didn’t work for you and why. Gives me an insight on how to adapt and run for myself when I ever get the time. It or Caverns of Thracia late this year.

    1. I am LOVING Thracia. I find it very usable in most of the ways I do not find HSI usable. However, it's also cumbersome in all the ways that HSI is elegant. It has horrible layout, no notes on factions or characters, and some confusing maps.

      That said, I think you know about our project to fix it, right?

  5. Do you think some of your issues could be solved by adding an encounter roll, like maybe you only have an encounter in each of these places 1/6 of the time? Or would that totally break the way everything fits together?

    1. I think that would significantly alter the author's intent, but it wouldn't break anything... I think. If I ever went back to HSI, it's what I would do, personally. It would make a better game for my table.

  6. Just had my first session of this today and I loved it♥
    The four things on your "not suit me" are huge cons for me too. Definitely agree there. I found fan made stats, still grumble grumble on the pricing, ditching some of the gaze stuff, and keeping the abundance thing even though I don't like it. Sometimes it's interesting to try something different and let a module wreak havoc on the rest of the game world.

    The extreme amounts of rolling... is why I have held off on this dungeon until now. Year of isolation = video fun times instead of actually meeting face-to-face = finally breaking my "no electronics at the table" rule = chartopia! Which does work great for this!

    I don't understand if there's an encounter rate when the party is stationary/camped? I homebrewed one for now.

    Pretty much agree with everything you write except the density which I love. It's a huge plus for me.

    Even so... even with all these campaigns... This first session was very fun and I look forward to many more. I just really love a living world so much.

    1. s/campaigns/complaints/ guh I was so tired

      I removed the Night Axe women thing and I haven't read the Nereid thing yet. I mean this kind of stuff is getting removed from anything I run and that's just how it is.


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