As Nights of the Crusades was recently honored with an ENnie nomination, I thought it would be a good time to check out one of their modules, The Tower By The Sea. There's a lot of good things going on in this adventure, but I'm going to start with something that may seem inconsequential - only a sentence or two - but is important, and rarely done:
In the first introductory paragraph, this product tells you how to use it. It says if you're using it in PDF, keep the bookmarks pane open so you can easily move from spot to spot. First of all, thank you for bookmarking, but more importantly, even if you do bookmark, the advice for your expectations of what I'll be doing with this product is very helpful. Even more in the future would be appreciated. How best should I use this supplement? Should I print out a page, should I leave it on the screen..should I show the players part or all of the supplement or keep it hidden? All these questions are generally unanswered in modules and supplements alike, so it's great to see a work actually say "do this, it will help."
Not to mention that there are other PDF features that make this work very useful at the table. Items, locations and NPCs are all hyperlinked thoroughly - forget who someone is? Click or tap on the NPC name and go right to a description of them!
Organizational material aside, this is a fantasy adventure in one of my most favorite veins. I've been excited by the fantastical 1001 Nights since I was a child, and rather than Tolkien or Howard, it's the Arabian adventures that always drove my forays into fantasy. I've constantly searched for more in gaming in this area, from D&D's Al-Qadim to the Caliphate Nights of True20.
A unique opening makes this adventure feel like a tale from the Nights - the player characters are badly hurt or fatigued from a monstrous sandstorm, and are nursed back to health by a kindly, mysterious old healer. I don't think I'm giving anything away when I say the healer may not be all she appears to be.
Although the adventure is detailed along a timeline of events which the player characters must navigate, there are two elements of the structure of the module that are unusual and contribute greatly to the excitement.
First, each of the NPCs, while it has the normal stats for each of them, has a dispositional table that shows what the NPC might reveal or do for player characters once they have gained sufficient favor with them. The mechanics of Nights of the Crusades are such that the players will want to get into social situations with NPCs and trade stories with them - just like the characters in the Arabian Nights do! This module really makes that concrete. Once you know that the NPCs are set up like this, you have a real incentive to try to play to each of them to find out what they've got hiding back behind the GM screen ready to assist you with.
Secondly, unlike many timeline adventures, there's also a location thoroughly detailed as well. If you preferred a more sandbox or open-ended approach to the material, you could simply invert it - start with the characters exploring the situation and layer in the events as needed instead of having them explore the location based on motivations introduced in the timeline.
If I had to pick areas of improvement, I would say that there's a few grammar issues I spotted here and there, and the GM's summary of what's happening should be more detailed in the introduction, so we actually have some idea of what's coming. As it is, one of the NPCs undergoes a significant change during the game, but the links all take you to the pre-change stats and information regarding the character. This makes it hard to track.
I'm really impressed by the Tower by the Sea. I feel it really captures the flavor of an Arabian Nights adventure - stories within stories, social interaction and gaining favor with allies as a core mechanic, and secrets and magic around every corner. After reading it I'm excited to see what happens next in the line!