There’s an old saying which says, pithily enough, that simple is best. It’s an axiom that gets lost sometimes in the 3.5 design mindset, as writers and publishers mix in new and ever more complex options. Even adventures are guilty of this, oftentimes looking to take place in new venues with labyrinthine storylines. Stone of Life, from Worlds of Adventure, eschews all of that, taking the familiar tone of a straightforward dungeon crawl for low-level characters.
The adventure, meant for 2nd-level characters, is simple in its execution. There’s a magical pool that heals the injuries of anyone who drinks of it, and a druid wants the PCs to find it and get a flask of its water for his dying master. The characters must then navigate the network of caverns that leads to it, fighting off the minions of a death god who currently try to keep the pool away from those who’d use it, and locate the pool.
I found myself surprised with how much I enjoyed this adventure as I read it over. I admit, for such an uncomplicated offering from a small company, I’d really thought that there’d be little to recommend it. Instead, it felt liberating to read an adventure that didn’t feel that it had to bombard us with unnecessary complications. Moreover, there was no sacrifice in quality going along with this product. Instructions were given on altering the adventure for 1st- or 3rd-level parties, stat blocks were neatly presented where necessary for encounters. Even the bookmarks were thorough and professionally nested, allowing for easy navigation, something that’s usually ignored in shorter products.
Of course, there were some aspects to the adventure that I was somewhat critical of. There’s a heavy reliance on undead over the course of this adventure, for example, which may place too much of a burden on clerics while rogues are marginalized (though the use of traps might help alleviate the latter problem). Also, the undead in this adventure had a curious vulnerability in that they’re tied to an item in the dungeon; if the PCs happen to find and destroy it while starting out, which is possible, they could have an unexpectedly easy time of it. Finally, the last encounter seems too deadly for a group of 2nd-level PCs. Maybe they’re supposed to level up over the course of the adventure, but as it stands the last enemy could be a TPK waiting to happen.
I also can’t help but note that there’s very little artwork here. Besides the cover, there’s an interior map (which seems a bit blocky) and an interior illustration for one of the new monsters, the ghargoyle. There’s also a slim green sidebar on alternating pages, but beyond that, if you prefer nice artwork in your books, you won’t find much here.
Still, this adventure was quite enjoyable for how unassuming it was. It gave me a very retro “back to the dungeon” feeling that newcomers will quite enjoy, and veteran players will probably feel nostalgic about. If you’re feeling old school, give your group a run through Stone of Life.