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Quests of Doom 4: War of Shadows (PF)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/03/2020 05:35:29

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 40 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 36 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience – and I wouldn’t have reviewed this one usually. Why? Because the module is the final part of a series of adventures, which were first published in the criminally-underrated Mountains-sourcebook “Mountains of Madness.” Full disclosure: I was a backer of the KS to fund Mountains of Madness, since I genuinely consider the Perilous Vista books by Frog God Games to be some of their finest work for PFRPG. I briefly talked about the module back then, but my patreon supporters wanted a more detailed analysis of the module in question, so here we go!

Okay, so first things first: “War of Shadows” is the direct sequel to “Between a Rock and a Charred Place” – running it on its own is not the best idea, as the module loses much of its impact. That being said, it’s much easier to set up than the previous one – a call to arms issued by the dwarves is all it takes to kick it off. The module is intended for 8th-level characters, and as always, a well-rounded group is recommended. The module features read-aloud text for key-encounters and dungeons, but not to an excessive degree. Finally, it should be noted that, like its predecessors, it is pretty deeply ingrained in the lore of the Lost lands-setting; while it is very much possible to adapt the module to other campaign settings, it does take a bit of work, as the political situation of the region depicted here does matter.

Okay, as always, the following contains SPOILERS – this time, that’s includes the previous module. You have been warned. Players should jump to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! The masterplan of Grugdour, hobgoblin warlord and secretive devotee of the shadow deity Mirkeer, is in full motion. The clever hobgoblin warlord’s allies may have failed with their coup d’état/assassination attempt in “Between a Rock and a Charred Place”, but that does not put a stop to his plans. His sights on Tyr Whin, he had someone spread a contagion affecting only dwarves in the place, and if things had gone according to plan, no call of aid from Erod Flan would come, which means that his army will have to take Tyr Whin at the place’s full strength. Thankfully for the devious hobgoblin, the disease seems to be working better than expected, and thus he marches his army, cleverly concealed nearby, towards Tyr Whin.

Enter the PCs – who will face a 120 miles trek through mountainous terrain featuring a couple of scripted encounters. Problematic here: The mountainous features of the region? They are referred to as “see A Little Knowledge” and “Between a Rock and a Charred Place” – so no, you don’t get the information to conveniently run the trek! That’s a no-go for a stand-alone module. I indubitably by now sound like a broken record, but I’d very much recommending getting “Mountains of Madness” over this stand-alone version. It also has more detailed mountain hazard rules etc., which seriously add tremendously to the whole sequence of 4 adventures. But I digress.

When the PCs arrive, they’re faced with a siege – the hobgoblin army has encircled the fortress, and it has siege weapons! The PCs can attempt to take these down, if they feel stealthy/clever, and there is a secret entrance to the fortress – provided the PCs beat the aberrant giants lairing there. Once the PCs have made it into the fortress, they’ll have their tasks cut out for them: The mysterious spinning sickness (which causes a sense of vertigo) may not be fatal, but it sure as heck makes fighting very hard. The citadel’s quartermaster, Truvven Blackgranite, wastes no time: The dwarves can’t best or outlast the hobgoblins in their current state, so he asks the PCs to travel to MounT Huumvar atop the Feirgotha plateau to cut off the hobgoblin army’s head. Mount Huumvar is a superb defensive position, but when the Kingdom of Arcady yet flourished, there was a temple created to the foreigner’s strange deities – in this temple of Aten, there is supposed to be a secret entrance to Mount Huumvar, granting a small team a chance to eliminate the hobgoblin high command. Of course, clever PCs may want to first investigate this mysterious disease, and indeed, the investigation that leads to the false dwarf assassin/witch multiclass perpetrator is nice, though it is presented in a pretty swift/efficient manner.

Once that snake has been taken care of, the PCs are off through the mountains, hopefully not running afoul of the hobgoblin warriors. They make their way to the dilapidated temple, and through it, navigating a wikkawak lair (!!) to finally infiltrate Mount Huumvar. These dungeons all have in common that they adhere to an internal logic I very much enjoy: The placement of traps makes them potentially predictable by defensively-minded PCs who think about where they tread, and the new haunt featured also follows this. Funny: There is a white dragon that allows you to get in all those Mr. Freeze puns and dad jokes from the classic Batman & Robin trainwreck of a movie. It’s a nice change of pace for a species of dragon usually relegated to little more than beasts. Another plus here is that monsters and the like don’t behave as mindless beasts; they try to bluff, offer truces and survive. That kind of thing’s too rare in modern RPGs.

Mount Huumvar deserves special mention, as the dungeon level is a pretty tough nut to crack – as the culmination of the “Mountains of Madness”-modules, it very much should be. Careless PCs might quickly face a number of foes, including several unique hobgoblin builds, that can overwhelm them, so careful precision strikes, Stealth, etc. are advised – with them, the complex becomes possible to handle; without them, you should hope that your PCs have learned the values of a tactical retreat. This is per se a great finale.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are per se very good, though the references pertaining rules featured in other adventures should not be here. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports a few b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography is b/w – and guess what? Yep, of course, the player-friendly versions of the maps, which had been included in Mountains of Madness…are absent from this one.

Tom Knauss’ “War of Shadows” was one of my favorite modules from the Mountains of Madness adventures, as it manages to take leitmotifs from each of its predecessors and weaves them into a satisfying conclusion for the adventure arc. However, much like the other 3 modules in the arc, it deserved better than what it got here. I genuinely LIKE the saga, and it wouldn’t have been that hard to include some of the material that made Mountains of Madness so rewarding throughout these stand-alone renditions of the modules. Here a hazard, there a new creature cough missing boss in God of Ore /cough, and we’d have an impressive array of modules here. Indeed, in an ideal version, there’d have been revisions of the adventures to make them more self-contained; at the very latest with “Between a Rock and a Charred Place”, and here as well, we have modules that really, really are intended to be run in sequence. Either that, or properly designate them as a series that requires the previous modules – “War of Shadows” requiring two adventures for the notes on certain features and environmental rules? That’s not cool.

Beyond being an unfortunate decision, it also further underlines the whole sense of “rushed stand-alone version” that I got from all of the 4 adventures. From the references to other adventures to the horribly-botched God of Ore-version, they have in common that they deserved better. The absence of player-friendly maps that EXIST (they are all in the Mountains of Madness hardcover! I checked!) and these errant cross-references just emphasize this. And that, to me, is a tragedy. I really liked the modules in Mountains of Madness, where they operate as they should. Here? Here, I’m genuinely crestfallen about how this turned out. My final verdict for “War of Shadows”’s stand-alone iteration has to reduce a module I’d have given my highest accolades in its original iteration to 3.5 stars, rounded up. Tom Knauss’ cool 4 modules deserved better than this.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Quests of Doom 4: War of Shadows (PF)
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Quests of Doom 4: Between a Rock and a Charred Place (PF)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/02/2020 08:32:07

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 33 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 27 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience – and I wouldn’t have reviewed this one usually. Why? Because the module is the third part of a series of adventures, which were first published in the criminally-underrated Mountains-sourcebook “Mountains of Madness.” Full disclosure: I was a backer of the KS to fund Mountains of Madness, since I genuinely consider the Perilous Vista books by Frog God Games to be some of their finest work for PFRPG. I briefly talked about the module back then, but my patreon supporters wanted a more detailed analysis of the module in question, so here we go!

This adventure is intended for 7th level characters, and, as always for Frog God Games modules, a well-rounded group is recommended. As always, we have read-aloud text for key-scenes and dungeon rooms, but the amount provided is on the low side of things.

The module is steeped, particularly in its background, in the lore of the Lost lands campaign setting, particularly the Stoneheart Valley. Unlike the previous two modules taken from “Mountains of Madness”, this one is harder to implement in another campaign setting – you’d need a mountainous region with a pretty specific political framework here. It’s not impossible to do, but it requires a bit of work. It should also be noted that this adventure has strong ties to the final of the modules taken from “Mountains of Madness”, which would be “War of Shadows.” I strongly encourage running these two back to back. If you’ve run “A Little Knowledge”, you’ll have a good starting point, for the actions of the PCs there should have made for a convenient reason for why the otherwise pretty xenophobic Clan Craenog’s High Thane has invited the PCs to the dwarven city of Erod Flan, we set our play – for this is a somewhat Shakespearean yarn!

All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, you need a reason why the High Thane would invite the PCs to his city to be honored; as per default, that would be because they saved the beleaguered garrison of Burvaadun from the undead assaults conducted by the an ancient arch-mage. The PCs arrive in Erod Flan, get a tour, chances to pick up rumors, etc., before the PCs get their audience with the High thane. During all of this time, the PCs should well pay attention, for otherwise, the complex background story may become puzzling – the feast, ultimately, is rocked by a massive explosion that had the chance to kill the entire congregation!

While the ancient thane and his associates quickly deduce the dark folk survivors of the battles the dwarves once led as likely culprits, filling the PCs in on this ancient foe, but the matter at hand is more complicated. At this point, the PCs will be asked to dive down into the formerly-sealed quartz-mine. The PCs are accompanied by stout dwarves, at least potentially – and that is where the module becomes interesting.

You see, the dwarves are no chumps – they have secured the entrances to the dark folk regions with really deadly traps, many of which glyph-based – how the GM handles these will greatly influence the difficulty of the module. Warned PCs have obviously an easier time dealing with those; here’s the thing, though: There is a traitor among the dwarves, one carrying a grudge and ambition from long past; I’m consciously omitting the details here to avoid giving away the deal, but said individual has VERY detailed tactics provided to conceal his intentions, and this individual, obviously, also wants to “thin the herd” of people between him and his goal. How this dynamic villain is handled, is very cool.

Indeed, handling of the NPCs is crucial, for the module tends to throw a lot of cross-invisible-line-for-damage traps at the PCs, and the ones on the dwarven side are brutal; the ones in the dark folk complex obviously aren’t telegraphed this manner, but they DO follow an internal logic, so clever and experienced groups may avoid them.

Said traitorous individual, btw., has a conspiracy going on with none other than the leader of the dark folk – and the exceedingly intelligent hobgoblin warlord Grugdour, ultimately with the goal of elevating the traitor to the seat of the High Thane, and a breaking of the stalemate between hobgoblins and dwarves….hence the assassination attempt below. The fate of the traitor can go a lot of ways, by the way – but in the end, the module will have one loose end, namely Grugdour’s and his gambit for supremacy!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports two solid b/w-artworks. The pdf-version comes fully bookmarked. The b/w-cartography is nice and detailed, as usual – alas, like the previous two adventures, the stand-alone version is missing the player-friendly maps – particularly grating, since these omitted the tell-tale trap-indicators in the original version of the adventure.

Tom Knauss’ “Between a Rock and a Charred Place” loses some of its impact when considered as a stand-alone venture; “A Little Knowledge” provided a great segue into the module’s scenario, and without that lead-in, it’s somewhat harder to set up. Furthermore, the module essentially requires the sequel for a satisfying resolution. It remains a good module, but it’s one that I strongly suggest playing these modules in sequence. All in all, my final verdict for this stand-alone version clocks in at 4 stars – I recommend getting the Mountains of Madness book over this stand-alone iteration, if you have the option.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Quests of Doom 4: Between a Rock and a Charred Place (PF)
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Quests of Doom 4: A Little Knowledge (PF)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/27/2020 04:11:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 31 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience – and I wouldn’t have reviewed this one usually. Why? Because the module is the second part of a series of adventures, which were first published in the criminally-underrated Mountains-sourcebook “Mountains of Madness.” Full disclosure: I was a backer of the KS to fund Mountains of Madness, since I genuinely consider the Perilous Vista books by Frog God Games to be some of their finest work for PFRPG. I briefly talked about the module back then, but my patreon supporters wanted a more detailed analysis of the module in question, so here we go!

“A Little Knowledge” is the second of the Mountains of Madness-adventures, and is intended for 5th-level characters; as always for Frog God Games scenarios, it is highly suggested to face these with a well-rounded group. The module comes with read-aloud text for most keyed locales, but not for every encounter featured. The module is set in the Lost lands campaign-setting, and while it can be divorced relatively easily from this backdrop, it does lose some of its cross-referential background appeal – Slumbering Tsar and Sword of Air both tangentially are relevant. The module takes place on the mountainous, fabled Feirgotha Plateau. Theme-wise, this module feels very much like old-school pulp in the best of ways, making me remember some of the rare good tales from Weird Tales.

The module does not really require other adventures from the Mountains of Madness set to work properly, making it a good stand-alone adventure in that regard. Anyhow, the module offers two different primary angles – one that has the PCs travel to the Plateau to search for the fabled Library of Arcady, lost dwarven poetry, and the other about the dwarven keep of Burvaadun, which might well be en route for the PCs.

And this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? The module begins with the PCs needing to trek through the somewhat dilapidated dwarven mountain highways. A series of planned/random encounters happen here, and if anything, this is probably the part of the module that suffers most from being taken out of the big book: Mountains of Madness provides quite a lot of cool hazard/environmental rules for mountaineering, and the foreboding plateau and its highways lend themselves to applying those. Without this rules-chassis, the difficulty of the module decreases somewhat, as does its unique draw. That being said, the module does come with proper high altitude options and notes how to make the region environmentally challenging – it’s just that the module originally was pretty much a perfect place to apply all the fun stuff.

Anyhow, once the PCs manage to arrive at Burvaadun, they find the remote garrison under siege by undead, with the trail leading to the fabled remnants of Arcady. Which brings me to the pulp theme and its strength: Arcady was once part of the Khemitian culture; if you’re unfamiliar with it, to my knowledge, it was first featured in Gary Gygax’ Necropolis, and is essentially a quasi-Egyptian culture. Some of their arch-mages basically teleported an entire city atop the plateau, lending the proceedings a rather Shamballah-esque appeal. Suffice to say, the place fell, and dread Thanopsis still rules here – the mad mage has cheated death for millennia by consciousness-transference into younger bodies…but the process is starting to fail and wear on his mind. Worse, he failed to notice how a warm spell a few centuries ago had thawed his frozen body-array. (Yes, he is EVIL.) Worse, the xenophobic dwarves of Clan Craenog kept humans away – and his body is failing.

Hence, the ailing arch-wizard, his powers degrading in the body of a wizened crone, started throwing his undead against the dwarves, hoping to secure at least one human for consciousness-transference. The PCs will have to travel to the frozen ruins of lost Arcady and rid the world of the ailing evil of Thanopsis for once and for all. While I wished we got a bit more than the pyramid-topped fabled library to explore in the frozen city, the dungeon per se is nice: It makes sense regarding its denizens, manages to include a bit of social interaction (with pipefoxes), and generally sports a concise and well-crafted atmosphere that lets its ancient sense of dilapidation properly breathe; it manages to feel like exploring an ancient ruin, unnaturally kept in existence by a presence that should have died ages ago. The atmosphere here is, in short, well-executed., and traps make in-game sense, which is another plus.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the module sports a nice b/w-artwork. The pdf-version comes fully bookmarked, and I can’t comment on the print version, since I only own the Mountains of Madness book in print. Cartography is a bit of a bummer: The key-less, VTT-friendly player-maps from the big book have not been included, not even as an extra pdf or jpgs. BOO!

Tom Knauss’ “A Little Knowledge” is a very atmospheric little adventure. It is a little bit of an odd man out in the Mountains of Madness modules, in that it does not focus on something dwarf-related and uses the garrison as a backdrop; its strong pulp theme is executed well and subdued enough to not hit you over the head with it. If anything, the stand-alone version suffers only from two shortcomings in comparison: The Mountains of Madness rules made it more interesting on an environmental level, and the absence of player-friendly maps is puzzling. If in doubt, get the hardcover instead. That being said, unlike “God of Ore” it at least does reference the proper core rules, so it doesn’t have dead links in the rules. What remains here, is a good adventure that loses a bit of its flavor and appeal, but not much. My final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Quests of Doom 4: A Little Knowledge (PF)
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Quests of Doom 4: God of Ore (PF)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/27/2020 04:09:44

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 37 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 31 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience – and I wouldn’t have reviewed this one usually. Why? Because the module is the first part of a series of adventures, which were first published in the criminally-underrated Mountains-sourcebook “Mountains of Madness.” Full disclosure: I was a backer of the KS to fund Mountains of Madness, since I genuinely consider the Perilous Vista books by Frog God Games to be some of their finest work for PFRPG. I briefly talked about the module back then, but my patreon supporters wanted a more detailed analysis of the module in question, so here we go!

“God of Ore” is a 3rd-level adventure, and as always, it assumes a well-balanced party; the module can be deadly, but it’s very much a module that can be won without losing PCs. Difficulty-wise, it is situated in the mid tier. The module is deeply steeped in the lore of the Lost lands-setting, and is situated in Stoneheart Valley; however, I found that using it in another setting is pretty simple – you just need a mountainous region that has this borderlands-frontier spirit. And yes, I use the “frontier”-term very consciously, for the adventure does manage to blend some Americana with the traditional fantasy themes.

The module begins in the frontier-town of Miners’ Refuge, and it is unfortunately here that I’ll have to field my first gripe against the adventure – you see, in Mountains of Madness, the village was fully depicted as a sample environment in its separate chapter, providing a sort of prologue environment; this section has been excised from this iteration here. As a consequence, there is less immediate motivation for the PCs. Oh, and as a rather embarrassing snafu, the epilogue does refer to this section – including the chapter header of the original Mountains of Madness-book. The module sports read-aloud text for most scenes. The scripted random encounters, which come with more details than usual, and even with read-aloud text, deserve special mention here.

All right, that being said, in order to go into more details, I’ll have to delve into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the module manages to evoke a kind of Gold Rush-vibe in the beginning, for when the PCs arrive in Miners’ Refuge, they’ll have missed an exodus of sorts. You see, Mithral Mountain is near – and it is notorious, for at one point, there was a dwarven clanshold here. This changed when one Clovis Stonesplitter struck the big one – or so it seemed. From the stone shards emerged what seemed like a vast vein of Mithral, and from the ore, a creature emerged, the Dwer-Bokham, “dwarf of mithral” in the Dwarven Tongue. Clovis irrevocably changed, and began worshiping the strange entity, luring his fellow dwarves to his new deity. A revolution would follow, one only survived by the dwarves that fled, as the fanatics for the new deity took the hold. Multiple attempts to retake the hold failed, and as the corpses piled, the reputation of the place grew, and discouraged those foolish enough to venture there.

All of this changed with a lazy good-for-nothing dwarf named Bargus Farmud. Spoiled and arrogant, he had heard about the legend, but also didn’t want to risk his hide. A devious scheme grew. Bargus claimed that he had met the god of the Mithral Mountain, and that the deity had inscribed the secret to eternal happiness and immortality on a mithral tablet in the mountain, but also that he’d require someone pure and free of corruption to decipher the tablet.

Yeah, that got a huge chuckle out of me. the silver-tongued dwarf then proceeded to recruit the good folk of Miners’ refuge, leading them towards their doom. The PCs will follow the trail of the faithful up the mountain’s slopes, seeking to save them from themselves, and hopefully put the darkness to rest. The lower slopes of the mountain don’t speak of success – the PCs pretty much immediately come upon the survivors of a pretty bad ambush that caught the “pilgrims” unaware – and as such, the first section is all about dealing with the hobgoblins that ambushed the pilgrims. Interesting here: The survivors aren’t necessarily good people, nor are they evil clichés; they are more interesting than the usual “people to be saved” trope. Here, the PCs can also find hints that the pilgrimage’s leader managed to escape from the massacre – and that his ostensibly mithral-blessed mien was a hoax, a con.

A plus here would btw. be that the access to the dungeon is not linear – there are multiple ways to get inside, and considering the mithral-skinned infused dwarves waiting here, the PCs may wish to conserve their resources. The exploration of the fallen dwarfhold, now inhabited by the fanatic, mithral-skinned infused dwarves of Dwer-Bokham, si a pretty cool dungeon, particularly considering Bargus, for if the PCs are sloppy, they may actually buy into his at least plausible explanation for what transpired….provided they find him.

Dwer-Bokham is btw. a creature originally introduced in Mountains of Madness, a cobaltog. Guess what is missing, referring to Chapter 6 of Mountains of Madness? Bingo. The stats for the cobaltog. The frickin’ end-boss of the dungeon has no stats in the standalone module. This is just sad.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are PER SE very good – as a part of Mountains of Madness. Unfortunately, the pdf, time and again, references that book, and is missing some information you actually NEED TO RUN THE MODULE. That is a no-go. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ two-column b/w-standard with nice, original artworks, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The module features quite a lot of nice b/w-cartography, but, in a seriously puzzling decision, the player-friendly maps included in Mountains of Madness are missing from the pdf! I get that a print module might need to be economical, but there is no reason for why this shouldn’t at least have the player-friendly maps for the pdf-version.

Tom Knauss’ God of Ore deserved so much better.

You see, I really enjoyed the adventure in its first iteration, but this here? This is a sloppy, minimum-effort stand-alone version of the module, a cut-copy-paste mess gone horribly wrong. Beyond having less features than it should, it actually lacks material that exists and has no reason to be absent here… and its BOSS IS MISSING.

The module would have lost some appeal sans the context and prologue sections, but not enough to sink it; God of Ore is, per se, a great little yarn I really enjoyed.

But it deserved better than this rushed stand-alone version, and is unbecoming of the standards we expect from Frog God Games. 2 stars. Get the excellent Mountains of Madness. But steer clear of this mess.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Quests of Doom 4: God of Ore (PF)
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Mystery at Ravenrock (PF)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/20/2020 12:14:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module for PF1 clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD,1 page back cover, leaving us with 20 pages, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

All right, so, first things first – this is the second of James Thomas’ modules dealing with the frontier’s region of Ravenreach. The module focuses on a very Borderlands-ish feel and should slot seamlessly into such regions – or e.g. the River Kingdoms in Golarion. Of course, you can also use it in the Lost Lands-setting without any hassle. The module is intended for 4-6 characters of 4th to 7th level – a well-rounded group is strongly recommended. The module does feature read-aloud boxed text, and e.g. does come with extra boxes for looking through keyholes, creatures bursting through furniture and the like – kudos!

While this module does benefit greatly from being ran as the follow-up to “Menace in Ravenreach”, the adventure does feature several adventure hooks that allow it to be used as a stand-alone adventure. While the players will be slightly less invested in the proceedings, the module does not require exposition dumps or the like to catch them up – in a way, it behaves very much like a second episode, as it assumes that the PCs return to Ravenreach after being absent for a while.

Genre-wise, this module offers a dungeon, but its central premise is that of an infiltration – in the way that most such modules will devolve into fighting; the module very much assumes that your group won’t be Stealth-ing through the materials. The adventure also certainly has a touch of irreverence and very dry humor – I know the author doesn’t live in Britain, but I’m not sure regarding nationality; the humor? Pitch-perfect. And n, this is not a funny-haha-module, nor is it gonzo, but it does have plenty of scenes that can be funny at the table. Very subdued and subtle – I like it.

The module includes three nice, mundane/alchemical items – one type of toxin that helps deal with a specific monster defensive ability, and two means of delivering this substance. This does add a nice tactical angle here. Speaking of which: As a nice bonus, the full-color maps (with grids and scale noted) are included as player-friendly, key-less versions as well – and yes, they’re full color. As a minor nitpick, two of the maps use a 10 ft.-grid, when a 5-ft.-grid would have been more useful for PFRPG, but that is me nitpicking.

Now, as far as the system is concerned, this deserves some serious praise: More so than most Frog God Games modules, and modules that exist for multiple systems in general, it is readily apparent that the author really KNOWS PFRPG. Not just gets it, but knows how it behaves, how it plays. This can be seen in a variety of choices: We have e.g. reskins of monsters with custom attacks and special abilities presented herein, with said text being delivered in the most concise form possible: acid arrow 1/hour +5 ranged touch, 2d4 acid damage for 3 rounds – simple, easy to grasp, no book flipping, complete. Like it. In spite of the relative brevity of the adventure, there is thus more content herein than you’d expect. The module also shows off this degree of system familiarity with the challenges posed – this is an old-school module, and as such, it is challenging and can easily result in a TPK if your players act stupidly – but more importantly, it does provide very in-depth tactical information for the GM, which is particularly helpful in the final encounter, which is truly and aptly-named “boss battle.” These tactics are btw. obviously bred from contact with actual players – the module has been playtested, and it SHOWS. The capabilities of the characters actually influence the plot and are reflected by a narrative – the adversaries have enacted a plan that represents the abilities they have. This, in short, makes the module feel very much “realistic” as well. Authors, take note – this is smart. This is a module worth winning, and won’t require that you redesign every single NPC to be an actual challenge. So yeah, mechanically, the PFRPG-version is certainly one of my favorites from Frog God Games’ oeuvre.

All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS, Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

So, while the party was busy adventuring, Master Minder has enacted his master plan (pardon the bad pun) and seized control of Ravenrock – with the Baron geass’d into essentially an imprisoned vegetable, he put a simulacrum of the Baron, one subservient to his whims, in charge. See what I mean regarding capabilities? Anyhow, he has managed to do so without arousing overt suspicion, though his lockdown of the keep Ravenrock does raise some eyebrows. Worse, his experiments with troll bi-livers have yielded fruit, and thus, the keep’s charmed guard captain and his men now have a serious case of immortalities – i.e. they regenerate. If nobody stops Minder, things’ll look grim indeed. Enter the party of stalwart heroes.

Via one of the hooks provided, the party will need to get inside the keep and stop the nasty wizard’s plans – and thankfully, there is a convenient means of ingress, which will be shared with the party as the primary hook: There is an all but forgotten cheese cave that was abandoned when the sewage system of the keep started making it…well, disgusting. You can’t see it from the keep, and only the family of the erstwhile cheese-maker knows about it, knowing it colloquially as the “Raven’s Arse” – and it’s up that metaphorical rump that the party will attempt to secure access to the keep. Told you this had some dry humor.

Which does bring me to the perhaps most pronounced weakness of the module: While access via this brief dungeon is the intended route, the issue of PCs charming/sneaking/flying etc. into the keep is mentioned, and the GM is encouraged to point the players towards the dungeon. I get why. And yet, it represents a serious lost chance – the keep begs to be an infiltration scenario, it really does. However, there is no summary of the total inhabitants and most likely rooms anywhere, nor is there information on watch shifts and the like. The module teases a freeform, sandbox infiltration and then goes the safe route, telling you to urge your players to use the dungeon. With a single page, at the very most, this module could have had all the necessary information to allow for a truly free-form experience with a variety of vectors. You can still easily run the module as such with a bit of work – but you’ll need to map the vicinity of the keep (since no map of the surrounding area is included), and you’ll have to piece together the number of available characters, etc. This is work that is a) unnecessary, and b), ultimately detracts somewhat from what this module feels like it is set up to be.

In a way, the whole infiltration angle is ultimately just an excuse to delve into the dungeon, and treat the keep like one. This is, once more, not something that makes the module bad, but it most assuredly is an exceedingly puzzling decision, considering that the adventure has all the pieces in place to go that route. This structural decision also extends to a degree to the keep itself, making it behave a bit more like a dungeon than I would have liked.

That being said, the dungeon that is here? It is not a place that will have your players grumble for playing it – it is genuinely interesting. Aforementioned Raven’s Arse, as it turns out, has become the home of filth fairies, and the first part of the dungeon, where we explore the sewage system, is genuinely icky and hilarious – the fairies in PFRPG are an example, btw. one example of those heavily modified stats mentioned above – they are based of ooze mephits, but the players will never notice, believe me; the modifications are this helpful. This part of the dungeon also ties in with the region’s history and the legend of the dragon slain – one combat encounter features the immortal ire of the dragon, and the fairies have used bones and the like to generate some funny vistas.

Obviously, the main meat of the module will thus be covered by the party exploring the dungeon of the keep and the keep itself; the well-designed component of the module is reflected here in traps, in lists of Perception DCs that yield varying amounts of information and the like. It should also be noted that, from holding ells springing open to the labs themselves, the module does a good job blending themes and providing variety within a given adventure. Obviously, the PCs will have to defeat Master Minder (who’ll most likely have prepared a devastating ambush with his troll bi-liver enhanced super-soldiers), rescue the Baron and depose of the imposter-simulacrum to bring peace back to the region – but easier said than done…the wizard does have a pretty devastating tactical array, and the fact that the players might not want to kill everybody doesn’t make things easier either. That’s a good thing.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are excellent on a formal and rules language level, with only a terrain feature, namely a room that adds a bonus to a certain skill check not noting a bonus type being my only admittedly petty nitpick. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ two-column full-color standard, including the usual amount of lots of text per page; locked door DCs are noted in the room headers, if applicable, which is a great way to handle that. The pdf does feature a couple of really nice full-color artworks, and I certainly appreciate the full-color maps, particularly the inclusion of a full set of player-friendly maps. Kudos! The IndieGoGo-version offered token in b/w and color – cool! I am not sure if those components are included in the retail iteration.

James Thomas’ second foray to Ravenreach is a module I actually enjoyed more than the first one in many ways; he seems to have found his own distinct voice, and the execution of the challenges herein is great. At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed by it. Because it is SO CLOSE to being a phenomenal adventure that embraces nonlinearity, and then elects to go the safe route in a pretty predetermined and linear dungeon-crawl. With but a single page, this could have been elevated to the ranks of modules that deserve to be called an example of excellence; as provided, the adventure is certainly good; whether you consider it to be very good, though, is mostly contingent on what you want from a module. If you want a great little dungeon-crawl that is challenging, at times funny and at times scary, then this delivers in spades. If you want a free-form adventure that presents multiple ways to tackle its challenges and focuses on providing a dynamic environment, then this might leave you wanting more. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mystery at Ravenrock (PF)
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Mystery at Ravenrock (5e)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/20/2020 12:13:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The 5e-iteration of this adventure clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD,1 page back cover, leaving us with 23 pages, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

All right, so, first things first – this is the second of James Thomas’ modules dealing with the frontier’s region of Ravenreach. The module focuses on a very Borderlands-ish feel and should slot seamlessly into such regions – or e.g. the River Kingdoms in Golarion. Of course, you can also use it in the Lost Lands-setting without any hassle. The module is intended for 4-6 characters of 4th to 7th level – a well-rounded group is strongly recommended. The module does feature read-aloud boxed text, and e.g. does come with extra boxes for looking through keyholes, creatures bursting through furniture and the like – kudos!

While this module does benefit greatly from being ran as the follow-up to “Menace in Ravenreach”, the adventure does feature several adventure hooks that allow it to be used as a stand-alone adventure. While the players will be slightly less invested in the proceedings, the module does not require exposition dumps or the like to catch them up – in a way, it behaves very much like a second episode, as it assumes that the PCs return to Ravenreach after being absent for a while.

Genre-wise, this module offers a dungeon, but its central premise is that of an infiltration – in the way that most such modules will devolve into fighting; the module very much assumes that your group won’t be Stealth-ing through the materials. The adventure also certainly has a touch of irreverence and very dry humor – I know the author doesn’t live in Britain, but I’m not sure regarding nationality; the humor? Pitch-perfect. And n, this is not a funny-haha-module, nor is it gonzo, but it does have plenty of scenes that can be funny at the table. Very subdued and subtle – I like it.

The module includes three nice, mundane/alchemical items – one type of toxin that helps deal with a specific monster defensive ability, and two means of delivering this substance. This does add a nice tactical angle here. While we’re on the subject of items – considering that 5e has less standard treasure books than e.g. PFRPG, I very much applaud the inclusion of a variety of magic items here. As a nice bonus, the full-color maps (with grids and scale noted) are included as player-friendly, key-less versions as well – and yes, they’re full color. As a minor nitpick, two of the maps use a 10 ft.-grid, when a 5-ft.-grid would have been more useful for 5e, but that is me nitpicking.

Now, as far as system mastery is concerned, Edwin Nagy did a surprisingly good job – the PFRPG-version excelled via its mechanics and the very well-DESIGNED components of its challenge; the 5e-version does not shirk from this challenge, and presents a surprising amount of different critters (which make up the bulk of the additional pages of this version), and the statblocks I checked do check out! That’s usually one thing that multi-system adventures fail horribly at, so kudos for providing proper stats AND getting the formatting for 5e right! The book also uses proper rules-language and default stats for guards etc. where applicable. Moreover, the version manages to retain the sense of being very tightly-wound and controlled, being well-designed as a hard, but fair adventure. That’s how it’s supposed to be. Big kudos for the conversion here. On the nitpicky side, I did notice some very minor formal hiccups here: A Languages line that reads “[stuff]”, a “Wand, uncommon” that’s not in italics, etc. – but the rules language-relevant materials? Precise and pristine. My only complaint here would be that the module has no inherent mechanic or rationale to prevent or dissuade from long-rest-scumming.

All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS, Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

So, while the party was busy adventuring, Master Minder has enacted his master plan (pardon the bad pun) and seized control of Ravenrock – with the Baron geass’d into essentially an imprisoned vegetable, he put a simulacrum of the Baron, one subservient to his whims, in charge. See what I mean regarding capabilities? Anyhow, he has managed to do so without arousing overt suspicion, though his lockdown of the keep Ravenrock does raise some eyebrows. Worse, his experiments with troll bi-livers have yielded fruit, and thus, the keep’s charmed guard captain and his men now have a serious case of immortalities – i.e. they regenerate. If nobody stops Minder, things’ll look grim indeed. Enter the party of stalwart heroes.

Via one of the hooks provided, the party will need to get inside the keep and stop the nasty wizard’s plans – and thankfully, there is a convenient means of ingress, which will be shared with the party as the primary hook: There is an all but forgotten cheese cave that was abandoned when the sewage system of the keep started making it…well, disgusting. You can’t see it from the keep, and only the family of the erstwhile cheese-maker knows about it, knowing it colloquially as the “Raven’s Arse” – and it’s up that metaphorical rump that the party will attempt to secure access to the keep. Told you this had some dry humor.

Which does bring me to the perhaps most pronounced weakness of the module: While access via this brief dungeon is the intended route, the issue of PCs charming/sneaking/flying etc. into the keep is mentioned, and the GM is encouraged to point the players towards the dungeon. I get why. And yet, it represents a serious lost chance – the keep begs to be an infiltration scenario, it really does. However, there is no summary of the total inhabitants and most likely rooms anywhere, nor is there information on watch shifts and the like. The module teases a freeform, sandbox infiltration and then goes the safe route, telling you to urge your players to use the dungeon. With a single page, at the very most, this module could have had all the necessary information to allow for a truly free-form experience with a variety of vectors. You can still easily run the module as such with a bit of work – but you’ll need to map the vicinity of the keep (since no map of the surrounding area is included), and you’ll have to piece together the number of available characters, etc. This is work that is a) unnecessary, and b), ultimately detracts somewhat from what this module feels like it is set up to be.

In a way, the whole infiltration angle is ultimately just an excuse to delve into the dungeon, and treat the keep like one. This is, once more, not something that makes the module bad, but it most assuredly is an exceedingly puzzling decision, considering that the adventure has all the pieces in place to go that route. This structural decision also extends to a degree to the keep itself, making it behave a bit more like a dungeon than I would have liked.

That being said, the dungeon that is here? It is not a place that will have your players grumble for playing it – it is genuinely interesting. Aforementioned Raven’s Arse, as it turns out, has become the home of filth fairies, and the first part of the dungeon, where we explore the sewage system, is genuinely icky and hilarious. In 5e, we have a wide array of supplemental creatures. This part of the dungeon also ties in with the region’s history and the legend of the dragon slain – one combat encounter features the immortal ire of the dragon, and the fairies have used bones and the like to generate some funny vistas.

Obviously, the main meat of the module will thus be covered by the party exploring the dungeon of the keep and the keep itself; the well-designed component of the module is reflected here in traps, in well-chosen DCs and proper application of 5e-mechanics. It should also be noted that, from holding ells springing open to the labs themselves, the module does a good job blending themes and providing variety within a given adventure. Obviously, the PCs will have to defeat Master Minder (who’ll most likely have prepared a devastating ambush with his troll bi-liver enhanced super-soldiers), rescue the Baron and depose of the imposter-simulacrum to bring peace back to the region – but easier said than done…the wizard does have a pretty devastating tactical array, and the fact that the players might not want to kill everybody doesn’t make things easier either. That’s a good thing.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are excellent on a rules language level, and evry good on a formal level, with only cosmetic nitpicks. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ two-column full-color standard, including the usual amount of lots of text per page; locked door DCs are noted in the room headers, if applicable, which is a great way to handle that. The pdf does feature a couple of really nice full-color artworks, and I certainly appreciate the full-color maps, particularly the inclusion of a full set of player-friendly maps. Kudos! The IndieGoGo-version offered token in b/w and color – cool! I am not sure if those components are included in the retail iteration.

James Thomas’ second foray to Ravenreach is a module I actually enjoyed more than the first one in many ways; he seems to have found his own distinct voice, and the execution of the challenges herein is great. Edwin Nagy’s conversion to 5e manages to retain the strengths of the adventure, and is simply well-executed. The main complaint against the PFRPG-version, though, remains: I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed by it. Because it is SO CLOSE to being a phenomenal adventure that embraces nonlinearity, and then elects to go the safe route in a pretty predetermined and linear dungeon-crawl. With but a single page, this could have been elevated to the ranks of modules that deserve to be called an example of excellence; as provided, the adventure is certainly good; whether you consider it to be very good, though, is mostly contingent on what you want from a module. If you want a great little dungeon-crawl that is challenging, at times funny and at times scary, then this delivers in spades, particularly if you like old-school style gaming and are fed up with sloppy conversions to 5e. This does actually operate properly in 5e. If you want a free-form adventure that presents multiple ways to tackle its challenges and focuses on providing a dynamic environment, then this might leave you wanting more. My final verdict will clock thus in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mystery at Ravenrock (5e)
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Mystery at Ravenrock (Swords and Wizardry)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/20/2020 12:11:56

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The OSR-version of this module clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD,1 page back cover, leaving us with 19 pages, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

All right, so, first things first – this is the second of James Thomas’ modules dealing with the frontier’s region of Ravenreach. The module focuses on a very Borderlands-ish feel and should slot seamlessly into such regions. Of course, you can also use it in the Lost Lands-setting without any hassle. The module is intended for 4-6 characters of 4th to 7th level – a well-rounded group is strongly recommended. The module does feature read-aloud boxed text, and e.g. does come with extra boxes for looking through keyholes, creatures bursting through furniture and the like – kudos! The rules-system used herein would be Swords &Wizardry (S&W), which is based on 0e, and the adventure ultimately can thus easily be converted to other OSR rules systems.

While this module does benefit greatly from being ran as the follow-up to “Menace in Ravenreach”, the adventure does feature several adventure hooks that allow it to be used as a stand-alone adventure. While the players will be slightly less invested in the proceedings, the module does not require exposition dumps or the like to catch them up – in a way, it behaves very much like a second episode, as it assumes that the PCs return to Ravenreach after being absent for a while. Nice: The OSR-version makes use of the room freed by requiring less rules language for optional encounters

Genre-wise, this module offers a dungeon, but its central premise is that of an infiltration – in the way that most such modules will devolve into fighting; the module very much assumes that your group won’t be Stealth-ing through the materials. The adventure also certainly has a touch of irreverence and very dry humor – I know the author doesn’t live in Britain, but I’m not sure regarding nationality; the humor? Pitch-perfect. And n, this is not a funny-haha-module, nor is it gonzo, but it does have plenty of scenes that can be funny at the table. Very subdued and subtle – I like it.

The module includes three nice, mundane/alchemical items – one type of toxin that helps deal with a specific monster defensive ability, and two means of delivering this substance. This does add a nice tactical angle here. Speaking of which: As a nice bonus, the full-color maps (with grids and scale noted) are included as player-friendly, key-less versions as well – and yes, they’re full color. Two of the maps use a 10 ft.-grid, another a 5-ft.-grid.

All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS, Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

So, while the party was busy adventuring, Master Minder has enacted his master plan (pardon the bad pun) and seized control of Ravenrock – with the Baron geass’d into essentially an imprisoned vegetable, he put a simulacrum of the Baron, one subservient to his whims, in charge. See what I mean regarding capabilities? Anyhow, he has managed to do so without arousing overt suspicion, though his lockdown of the keep Ravenrock does raise some eyebrows. Worse, his experiments with troll bi-livers have yielded fruit, and thus, the keep’s charmed guard captain and his men now have a serious case of immortalities – i.e. they regenerate. If nobody stops Minder, things’ll look grim indeed. Enter the party of stalwart heroes.

Via one of the hooks provided, the party will need to get inside the keep and stop the nasty wizard’s plans – and thankfully, there is a convenient means of ingress, which will be shared with the party as the primary hook: There is an all but forgotten cheese cave that was abandoned when the sewage system of the keep started making it…well, disgusting. You can’t see it from the keep, and only the family of the erstwhile cheese-maker knows about it, knowing it colloquially as the “Raven’s Arse” – and it’s up that metaphorical rump that the party will attempt to secure access to the keep. Told you this had some dry humor.

Which does bring me to the perhaps most pronounced weakness of the module: While access via this brief dungeon is the intended route, the issue of PCs charming/sneaking/flying etc. into the keep is mentioned, and the GM is encouraged to point the players towards the dungeon. I get why. And yet, it represents a serious lost chance – the keep begs to be an infiltration scenario, it really does. However, there is no summary of the total inhabitants and most likely rooms anywhere, nor is there information on watch shifts and the like. The module teases a freeform, sandbox infiltration and then goes the safe route, telling you to urge your players to use the dungeon. With a single page, at the very most, this module could have had all the necessary information to allow for a truly free-form experience with a variety of vectors. You can still easily run the module as such with a bit of work – but you’ll need to map the vicinity of the keep (since no map of the surrounding area is included), and you’ll have to piece together the number of available characters, etc. This is work that is a) unnecessary, and b), ultimately detracts somewhat from what this module feels like it is set up to be.

In a way, the whole infiltration angle is ultimately just an excuse to delve into the dungeon, and treat the keep like one. This is, once more, not something that makes the module bad, but it most assuredly is an exceedingly puzzling decision, considering that the adventure has all the pieces in place to go that route. This structural decision also extends to a degree to the keep itself, making it behave a bit more like a dungeon than I would have liked. Particularly in the old-school version for S&W, this does feel like an unfortunate oversight when contrasted with comparable modules.

That being said, the dungeon that is here? It is not a place that will have your players grumble for playing it – it is genuinely interesting. Aforementioned Raven’s Arse, as it turns out, has become the home of filth fairies, and the first part of the dungeon, where we explore the sewage system, is genuinely icky and hilarious. This part of the dungeon also ties in with the region’s history and the legend of the dragon slain – one combat encounter features the immortal ire of the dragon, and the fairies have used bones and the like to generate some funny vistas. The filth fairies are presented as a new creature in the OSR-version.

Obviously, the main meat of the module will thus be covered by the party exploring the dungeon of the keep and the keep itself; the well-designed component of the module is reflected here in traps and the like – it is hard, but generally fair. It should also be noted that, from holding ells springing open to the labs themselves, the module does a good job blending themes and providing variety within a given adventure. Obviously, the PCs will have to defeat Master Minder (who’ll most likely have prepared a devastating ambush with his troll bi-liver enhanced super-soldiers), rescue the Baron and depose of the imposter-simulacrum to bring peace back to the region – but easier said than done…the wizard does have a pretty neat ambush ready…

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are excellent on a formal and rules language level. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ two-column full-color standard, including the usual amount of lots of text per page; locked door DCs are noted in the room headers, if applicable, which is a great way to handle that. The pdf does feature a couple of really nice full-color artworks, and I certainly appreciate the full-color maps, particularly the inclusion of a full set of player-friendly maps. Kudos! The IndieGoGo-version offered token in b/w and color – cool! I am not sure if those components are included in the retail iteration.

James Thomas’ second foray to Ravenreach is a module I actually enjoyed more than the first one in many ways; he seems to have found his own distinct voice, and the execution of the challenges herein is great. Jeff Harkness does a great job converting the module to S&W, and all in all, the adventure holds up. However, system-immanently, the module loses one of its most pervasive strengths in this iteration – the system simply doesn’t offer as much tactical options, and since there are less rules to finetune, this impressive aspect is simply not there. Conversely, OSR-adventures do tend to assume that the players use their brains, that they can approach a challenge from various angles, and particularly in this context, the module’s baseline of railroading the PCs away from other means of ingress, ultimately, hurts the adventure. In this iteration, my final verdict can’t exceed 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo – provided your players can stomach that. If not, round down. If you have the luxury of being able to choose your system, I’d suggest getting the version for a more complex rules-set instead.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mystery at Ravenrock (Swords and Wizardry)
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Borderland Provinces (PF)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/25/2020 11:37:10

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive book clocks in at 269 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a colossal 262 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This book was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy for the purpose of a fair and unbiased review.

All right, so we have been to the Sundered Kingdoms and taken in all the sights and cults...but this is something different. While situated in the adjacent region to aforementioned adventure-collection, we actually have a massive setting sourcebook. As such, the tome begins with a breakdown of the history of the region as well as massive timelines denoting the respective years in the different means of counting the timeline. The general overview provides a myth-infused and concise take on the ethnicities and races found within this region; from the savage vanigoths to the supposedly river-born Gaeleen and the Foerdewaith, the notes provided here already exhibit a level of detail and care that makes more than sense: The book talks about how the respective ethnicities see themselves or depict themselves in these tumultuous times, for they indeed are.

Even a cursory glance provides some rather intriguing notes of cataclysms past: Beyond the obvious collapse of the Army of Light, the end of an empire in a magical conflagration that consumed vast stretches of land, 10-year-lasting rains that resulted in famine and failed crops - these lands have indeed seen their fair share of evocative and inspiring catastrophes, but still the lands stand. Fans of the Lost Lands will consider the timeline to be a truly inspiring and chockfull with notes: From the founding of the metropolis of Bard's Gate to Endhome's history (the city of "The Lost City of Barakus"-fame), notes that acknowledge some lesser known modules (like "Mires of Mourning") or the influence of Razor Coast - for veterans of Frog god Games/Necromancer Games, this book pretty much can be considered to be the very glue that pulls everything together; or the skeleton of the body of the region, if you will.

Wait, that does not evoke the proper connotation, since it implies being somewhat basic - and nothing could be further from the truth here. Different technology levels for the respective ethnicities and people add a feasible and evocative tone to the subject matter. But how to give you a proper insight into the leitmotifs of these borderlands? Well, for one, let me talk a bit about nomenclature: In case the names of ethnicities were not ample clue, the provinces and stretches of land, from a linguistic point of view, do something smart: With names like Aachen, Exeter and the like, they employ our dormant knowledge of medieval ages and a palpable Old Europe-style aesthetic. With crests and everything, the presentation of the respective countries further enforces this. So flavor-wise, we'd be looking at a place that feels distinctly more like the end of the Middle Ages than most settings.

On a formal criteria, within the details of the powerful individuals noted, the book sports a sufficient array of powerful people mentioned...but never becomes bogged down in them. You do not have the Oerth/Faerûn issue of an archmage/demigod in every second town - capable folks exist, but ultimately there are barely enough to maintain a sense of cohesion. The general scarcity of truly mega-powerful individuals mean that there is ample potential for PCs to act and shine without thinking that the "big players can't be bothered". On the other hand, some setting have fallen prey to the inverse issue: You know, where the super-powerful forces of darkness only don't seem to win because they are damn stupid. The Borderland Provinces do not fall prey to this trap either - instead, a general level of threats suffuse everything here, providing ample need for adventurers without threatening an apocalypse at every corner. This balancing act emphasizes further as sense of the believable: We can imagine the darkness lurking, but we do crave people and places worth saving, and making the PCs the only capable (or not ignorant) characters is generally an approach that undermines this. Hence, while there are capable NPCs, at least in my mind the chief achievement for this component lies in painting a picture that is believable.

The aforementioned history, nay historicity, evoked by the book is further underlined by the political leitmotif: You see, the nomenclature and catastrophes echo some real life disasters for a reason: The political landscape of the Borderland Provinces is not unlike that of the trials and tribulations and collapse of the Carolingian Empire, which ultimately gave rise to the Holy Roman Empire. Much like these historic empires, the once powerful empire of Foere is within the process of dissolution and decadence; nobles think of secession, provinces are not properly defended and when even the loss of tax revenue is deemed acceptable, you will note that something is going wrong big time...meanwhile, the kingdom of Suilley has won its independence and is going through the growing pains of the rapid expanding empire - growing pains which may cause it to collapse yet under the issues inherited from years of mismanagement...if external forces don't do the job for the young kingdom. Similarly, the discrepancy between these two major players feel like bookends of the cycle to me - but that may well be due to my Nietzschean leanings when it comes to the structure of the history of mankind. On a less pretentious note, one could construe the political landscape as one that provides pretty much the maximum of adventuring potential: With the threat of war looming, political infighting and shifting allegiances all provide a rich panorama of inspiring metanarratives to develop...and that is before free cities and city states on the rise and the pseudo-colonial angle Razor Coast provides are entered into the fray.

The book, then goes on to underline yet another widely component that is a crucial glue often neglected in fantasy gaming: Religion. What's Endy now talking about, you ask? Well, beyond the presence of clerics, palas and the like, the function of religion for societies as a unifying thread is often neglected in gaming supplements - not so here: In the decline of Thyr's worship due to ever thinner margins and thus, possibilities of making an impact on the daily lives, Mitra's worship is gaining ground amidst the folk, adding another sense of Zeitenwende, of a radical change of the times to the social and political powder keg that is the Borderland Provinces. Conversely, this does echo similar proceedings in Europe - from Lutherans and Calvinists, a crucial component of their success ultimately can be attributed to the entwinement of the Catholic Church with the political establishment of those days, resulting in a disenfranchisement of a significant part of the body politic.

There is another component I feel obliged to mention, for, by the above, you may fall prey to the erroneous assumption that this book offers basically only a repackage of historical occurrences, when nothing could be further from the truth. After all, we are playing fantasy games and thus, the aspect of magic is deeply entwined with themes like religion: Beyond escalating the aforementioned cataclysms that have haunted these lands, magic also is firmly entwined with the aspect of religion - for, in a world where demon lords ever plot the ultimate collapse of civilization, a heresy suddenly becomes more than something to stamp out in order to maintain control over the doctrine and its narrative. Instead, heresy can range from the harmless to the soul-damning and as such, the task of the ever fewer agents of the organized religions traveling these lands is one of prime importance, as smart and devious cults operate beneath a veneer of respectability.

Which would bring me to the shadowy forces, whose threats are less obvious than warfare, racial conflicts, barbarians and monsters - namely, the leitmotifs of heresies. Whether benevolent or willfully incited by demonic cultists, the organized religions are having a tough time to maintain supremacy over their own teachings, considering the diverse challenges the lands face. In an age of flux, it is in the cracks left behind by the failures of the respective nobility and governments that darkness thrives. Which would bring me to the component that I have not yet mentioned: For up until now, I have mainly talked about the themes of this book and less about its actual use as a gaming supplement. You see, each of the areas introduced herein not only features notes on religion, major players and settlements - instead, the regions also provide monsters to be found within this area and a plethora of partially interconnected quests. Not content to simply depict hooks, the book goes into an almost-adventure-level of detail, with some statblocks and evocative quests there; to retrieve the train of thought associated with heresies, a whole village has fallen prey to false teachings and is thus doomed - unless the PCs can find a way to save their souls.

Beyond the monuments that litter the landscape and the traditional, exceedingly evocative indirect story-telling that comes together here, the book also is defined by a massive array of different random encounter-tables at the beck and call of the GM - and yes, the pdf does make a difference between regions, roads and the wilderness. Indeed, it should be noted that the narrative impulses contained herein blend all concisely; In an age where printing is not yet common, the appearance of potentially madness-inducing pamphlets, for example, would make for a unique angle. Have I mentioned yet the fact that this book also introduces a demon prince who may be one of Azathoth's Pipers, somehow turned sentient and...different, providing a long overdue thematic and innovative connection for the themes of the creatures of the Outer Dark and the forces of the Abyss.

Of course, there is more to the aspect of the fantastic than just an abundance of monstrosities haunting the wilderness; there would be the occurrence of a kind of truce between an archmage and the most powerful dragon of the region; there would be dangerous locales; neutral ground taverns at the intersection of no less than three territories...and there are places where the chivalric ideal still lives, with jousting and the means to rise in the social hierarchy. Numerous settlements in detail and a plethora of shrines and sacred or profane sites await the exploration by the PCs...and the sense of realism is further enhanced in its logical consequences: There would be, for example, a mighty city that has come to an understanding with a foul-tempered black dragon: The dragon defends the city...and who better to defend versus adventurers...than a whole city loving the creature, worshipping it...including the more powerful small folks? The component of the fantastic, from spells to the presence of creatures like ogres or worse, are not just simply slapdashed on like a thin fantastic coating - the internal consistency bespeaks careful and thoughtful deliberation and is baffling in its panache. Have I mentioned the region that uses giant ox beetles for beasts of burden?

Now the aspect of the fantastic even extends to some extend to the unique nature and economy that can be seen in parts of the borderland provinces; these lands are NOT just Europe-rip-offs. Quite the contrary, for e.g. the opium-studded fields of Pfefferain, originally introduced in the criminally underrated 3.X module "Vindication!" by Necromancer Games and the truce between ferry-operators and river giants - all seems to be connected in a tapestry of myriad colors and tones that nevertheless generate a concise whole. The level of deliberate care and internal consistency extends beyond the basic - MASSIVE name generators by region for both males and females, massive place-names by region (similarly ridiculously detailed and a colossal amount of stats for ready-made 109 encounters can be found to supplement the numerous adventure locales that are interspersed in the write-ups of the respective regions. Exceeding this, the book also features hazard generators and stats for aerial travelling - for example wind whales. Aforementioned heresies are similarly depicted in lavish detail...and the book provides a gigantic index that features pronunciation guidelines for the respective places. The book also features the previously released "Rogues in Remballo"-scenario and an impressive array of b/2-maps alongside player-friendly iterations - the inclusion of these just adding the icing on the cake this is. The physical iteration also has a gorgeous full-color hex-map of the regions.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good - while I noticed some minor hiccups like a superscript "B" that was not properly formatted, as a whole, this book adheres to FGG's high quality standards. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read b/w-2-column standard and the book sports numerous gorgeous b/w-artworks. The electronic version sports numerous bookmarks for your convenience...but frankly, if you can somehow afford it, get this in print: With high quality binding and paper, this book's physical version is just so much more awesome to hold in your hands. The b/w-cartography is nice and the presence of player-friendly maps is amazing.

Matthew Finch, with additional content by Greg A. Vaughan and Bill Webb, has created something special here. When I heard about this book for the first time, my reaction, to some extent, was bewilderment. While I could see e.g. Rappan Athuk and Endhome occupy the same general geographic region, while I saw the more conservative aspects working in perfect unison, it is the weirder, the darker and subtle aspects of the modules that stumped me as to how this could ever work as a whole.

You see, setting-books of this size face an almost impossible catch-22-situation. Too much detail and you wreck their adaptability for a given round; not enough and the thing becomes too opaque and some jerk like yours truly starts complaining. If you add the excessive canon this unifies, you have another issue: Bastards like yours truly that have too much fun contemplating and considering the ramifications of the presence of creatures, the political landscape, etc. - i.e., sooner or later, unless you REALLY think it through, internal discrepancies will creep into the game and someone will find them and have his/her game ruined by them, as immersion comes crashing down. On the other hand, if you take the reins too tightly, you only generate a free-form adventure with a restrictive metaplot, not a sourcebook. You need to maintain consistency, yes - but if you overemphasize it, the book becomes a dry enumeration of facts and densely entwines facts - and not everyone wants to read such a book.

It is against these challenges that I have read this massive tome...and it holds up. More than this, however, the achievement this represents lies within not only succeeding at maintaining internal consistency and fusing a gigantic array of disparate files into a thematically concise whole - it also maintains its efficiency as a gaming supplement: Much like the Judge's Guild books of old, certain wildernesses and city states, this very much represents a sourcebook that does not require preplanned adventures or the like - instead, you just throw your PCs inside and watch them do whatever they please...and if you do want a module, well, the region provides a vast array of mega-adventures that gain a lot from the proper contextualization within the region. In fact, I frankly wished I hadn't played some of them, since their context herein adds significantly to their appeal.

I have not even managed to scratch the surface regarding the number of things to do and experience within the borderland provinces and that is intentional, for I have so far failed to explicitly state the biggest strength of the book: Perhaps it is the internal consistency of the book and its lore...but I experienced something while reading this tome I have only scarcely encountered: A sense of Fernweh (think of that as the opposite of being homesick), of a wanderlust for a realm that does not exist, of a world so steeped in lore, vibrant and alive that this book managed what only a scant few have accomplished - I actually managed to dream lucidly a journey through these fantastic realm in a sequence of dreams of several days. This peculiar experience is usually reserved for books of the highest prose caliber, books that manage to generate a level of cohesion that is so tight my mind can subconsciously visualize it. A prerequisite for this, obviously, would be some desire to do just that, meaning that ultimately, the book in question must have caught not only my attention, but provided a sort of intense joy beyond the confines of most books, let alone gaming supplements.

To cut my long ramblings short, the prose herein is absolutely superb and exhibits the strengths of the exceedingly talented trinity of authors, making the reading experience of the book a more than pleasing endeavor. Moreover, the significant attention to detail regarding the actual use of the book as a gaming supplement ultimately also deprives me of any complaints I could field against it in that regard. While this review is based on the PFRPG-version, it is my firm conviction that even groups employing systems beyond the 3 for which this has been released, will have an absolute blast with this book -even without any of the book's gaming utility, this is an excellent offering and hence receives the highest accolades I can bestow upon it - 5 stars, seal of approval and nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016 - This makes the Lost lands truly come to life and I can't wait to see the next massive sourcebook of the world. if the Frogs can maintain this level of quality and consistency, we'll be looking at my favorite fantasy setting among all I know. Get this - you will NOT regret it!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Borderland Provinces (PF)
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Adventures in the Borderland Provinces (5e)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/25/2020 11:36:18

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive hardcover clocks in at 166 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC/product overview, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page of back cover, leaving us with 160 pages of pure adventure...so let's take a look!

This book was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy for the purpose of a fair and critical review.

"Welcome to the Borderlands. You'll probably die here." - Ari Marmell's first sentence of the introduction of this book is pretty much amazing...and it makes clear from the get-go that this book provides old-school modules, in the slogan of FGG: "Modules worth winning!" - i.e. challenging, hard modules that test your mettle and not just CR-appropriate hand-holding exercises. As such, this massive book obviously represents a collection of adventures, all new ones, I might add - so even completionists with a huge NG-collection like me get all new material here...

...and since this review covers said adventures in detail, I strongly encourage players who want to play these to skip ahead to the conclusion. From here on, the SPOILERS reign. ... .. . All right, still here? The first module presented herein would be "On a Lonely Road", penned by Anthony Pryor, intended for 2nd level PCs...and it makes perfect use of the Borderlands and the notion of travel/sandboxy nature of the region: Situated in the city of Troye, the PCs are contacted by Professor Sarrus Togren to act as muscle during an important journey: The scholar weaves a yarn of the fabled Ancient Ones and their civilization, lost to the ravages of time and the reputedly dangerous Yolbiac Vale - it is for this expedition that the PCs are hired by the professor and his research assistant, one half-elven beauty named Nymea Goswynn. Obviously, there will be more people on board: Wilderness-experienced Maissee Tlivant and arcane student Gedney Foulkes as well as several other students are supposed to accompany the troupe - which coincidentally may be a nice way to replace PCs that have met their ultimate fate, but that just as an aside. The adventure proceeds, on a daily pace, to set the mood - there is plenty of time to allow the PCs to become invested with the NPCs - the journey is fraught with peril, obviously, with bandit ambushes and the like, but it is the slow escalation that makes this module work:

Slowly, but steadily, distrust is sown; weird dreams haunt the participants and the proof seems to accumulate that not all is as it seems - and when strange beings, white claws and chaos erupts, when people are going missing and the PCs have to explore a concisely-presented, thematically consistent dungeon to prevent a rite most foul...you could actually mistake this for one of the better CoC or LotFP-modules, as its blend of the fantastic, weird and horrific comes together in a truly fascinating experience that makes ample use of the grand sense of antiquity suffusing the Lost lands. More importantly, the module's pacing, crucial to anything horrific or darker in theme, as well as the read-aloud text, are impeccable in their effects. A superb, unpretentious genre-piece of a module and certainly one that deserves being played.

Illusion and Illumination by Rhiannon Louve, for characters of 6th level, is a completely different beast and frankly, with its whimsical tone, it very much is appropriate for play with younger players. A pair of fey from the city of Mirquinoc, has been troubling candle-maker Yannick...and everything is confused due to the pixies getting horribly drunk and confusing the orders bestowed upon them by their queen due to somewhat magical, local beer! The candle-maker's a good person and can fashion somewhat magical candles, 7 of which are provided. Alas, the rules-component of these candles is pretty messed up - lack of CLs for spell-duplicating effects, minor deviations from the rules-language - while only tangentially-relevant to the plot, I was pretty disappointed by this sidebar. On a plus-side, unraveling the chaos is pretty fun, since it becomes slowly apparent that the pixie's pestering is supposed to make the candle-maker confess to sins he has not committed. In order to fix this situation and prevent innocents from getting hurt, Yannick beseeches the PCs to help him embark on a quest to talk to the fey queen Twylinvere. On the way towards the queen, through the wilderness, the pixies and their stealthy antics as well as the original target of the pixies, one nasty fey called Oromirlynn and the thralls need to be defeated to clean up the misunderstanding.

The Mountain that Moved by Gwendolyn Kestrel is written for 9th level characters and takes place within the Cretian Mountains, which have a nasty reputation for in-bred settlements, cannibals and strange disappearances. And indeed, within the settlement of Yandek, strange mutations abound among the folk there and various angles provide for different means of entering the module. If you take a look at the Yandek folk template, you'll note an angle not unlike the flavor of the horrid ogres of the Hook Mountain - a Hills have Eyes-vibe suffuses the module. Hilarious for me: The inclusion of a character named Blind Piet...I don't seem to be the only GM who has a recurring theme of a rogue of that name... The deadly and pretty nasty cannibalism-angle suffuses the wilderness-section of the module, but there also would be a mine to explore, one that features a very strange property of the place....oh, and have I mentioned the mountain that walked's secret, which is, indeed, very evocative and makes for a potentially brutal showdown...just sayin'.

The Two Crucibles by C.A. Suleiman, written for 8th level characters, is something completely different and blends deductive investigation, social politicking and dungeon crawling in one evocative combo: The Vanigoths may seem like barbarians to the more civilized folks of the Borderland Provinces, but they do have several intriguing traditions: During the crucible of blood, a kind of moot/Þing, there is a very real chance of an election of a Warhalac, a warlord independent of the overking...which may mean war among the vanigoths and with the kingdom of Suilley. The PCs basically stumble into becoming honored guests - and potentially, participants among the savage customs and games associated with the crucible and the adventure also requires the PCs to deal with a powerful adversary in his dungeon, undermining mystical power and dealing with a capital letter ARTIFACT of nasty proportions. This module drips flavor and its focus on roleplaying and cultural tidbits make sense. Amazing module.

The War of the Poppies by Eytan Bernstein, for 10th level characters, is a pretty freeform investigation scenario and takes place in Mana, capital town of Suilley - where blue poppies are swaying the taste of local addicts and shadow wars to retain control of the opium trade still abound. It is here that noble scions, fresh from the grand tournament of the lilies, have vanished after partaking in the novel, blue opium...and it is up to the PCs to find the truth, as magical means seem to fail to properly locate them. Here, the module excels with a significant array of flavor text, clues to unearth and people to interrogate, as the mystery of the blue poppy and the truth behind it beckon ever more...though the module goes one step beyond and actually talks about dealing with the addicts, helping rehabilitation, etc. - sample Q&A-sections help the GM run the module and render this yet another full-blown winner.

A Most Peculiar Hunt by Ari Marmell is intended for 12th level PCs and takes place in the unclaimed lands as such, it makes perfect use of the region: Three communities (Avrandt, Corvul and Vath) not particularly far from the Aachen border have went to war - which, in itself is not remarkable. The solution proposed, though, was: Instead of wasting resources and lives, the 3 quasi-lords have agreed on a competition to solve their difficulties by trophy collecting of exotic animals...read: Monsters. Unfortunately, this competition has had untoward consequences: Hiring several adventurers has caused a kind of monster migration towards Aachen. In order to bring peace to the region and stop the potentially dangerous migration of monsters towards more populated areas, the PCs will have to explore the region and unearth the truths behind the motivations of the three "lords." Beyond uncovering intrigues (and a particularly cool BBEG), the PCs will have to deal with both a dragon and a very powerful group of rival adventurers...making this definitely one of the most challenging modules in the collection...and that's saying something! Still, an amazing sandbox indeed!

Ectarlin's Last Ride by Scott Fitzgerald Gray would also be intended for 12th level PCs and takes place at the coast of Eastwhich and more than one vessel has recently gone missing there, the holds ransacked and crews massacred. So far, so common - the region is not haunted by the usual issues with pirates and cutthroats - instead, the matter at hand is far more complex. In order to unearth the truth behind this mystery, though, the PCs will have to take part in a salvage operation (cool!) and a threat that may well steal memories, making for a truly amazing experience when presented to experienced roleplayers...and beyond a flow-chart, the PCs may actually witness the deadly threats duke it out with ghostly riders, potentially participate in the massive battle for literally the souls of a village, explore ruins, understand the fractured nature of the eponymous spirit lord drawn back to the mortal spheres and finally, defeating the powerful evil behind the horrid happenings.

After a brief appendix, the book provides a TON of maps - and all are prevented in proper, full-sized versions for both GMs and players, with the latter purged of secret maps, etc. - which is awesome for going the extra mile.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are almost perfect, great on a formal level, with some minor hiccups on a rules-language level, but not enough to drag this down. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the book comes with a ton of amazing b/w-artworks, all new and shiny. The pdf iteration comes fully bookmarked for your convenience....but the true beauty if the dead-tree hardcover, which is bound in the usual, high quality we have come to appreciate and love in our Frog God Games-books.

Eytan Bernstein, Soctt Fitzgerald Gray, Gwendolyn Kestrel, Rhiannon Louve, Ari Marmell, Anthony Pryor and C.A. Suleiman have written an amazing compilation of adventures. This is, quality-wise, all killer, no filler - each of the modules in this book has its definite strengths and distinct narrative voices, while still retaining the consistency that the Borderland Provinces book established. More importantly, while the module here should definitely provide ample fodder for fans of old-school dungeon-crawling and aesthetics, I was positively surprised by the emphasis on smart players, on roleplaying and unearthing information - this is very much a ROLEplaying compilation that featured a ton of gorgeous scenes and truly astonishing vistas to explore. Cloak and dagger intrigue, deception and politics provide a level of investment for PCs and players alike to set this book apart from other compilations.

In short: When used in conjunction with the massive sourcebook, this book provides one of the most immersive sequences of adventures I have witnessed in a while...while still, thankfully, losing none of its plug-and-play-components. Suffused with the fantastic and the weird, a sense of fantastic, Gygaxian realism and some angles I have not seen before, the modules herein MATTER. They affect the lives of the people of the provinces and the diversity of challenges is amazing; I was positively surprised regarding the interaction of cultures, investigations, politics - all modules herein have the theme of indirect storytelling in common and use it perfectly. The book is amazing and very much represents the best of the Frog God Games that has transcended and surpassed the legacy of Necromancer Games. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and yes, this is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Adventures in the Borderland Provinces (5e)
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One Night Stands: Spire of Iron and Crystal (Swords and Wizardry)
by john b. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/05/2020 14:39:03

this is an OK adventure with some cool ideas mixed with some less exciting ideas. We give it 2 stars because there are parts of this adventure where they never finished writing the descriptions of the rooms. Is there a straight forward way to get into the big bad's room? The author doesn't explain. there is also a misprint/omission on the 3rd level, room #63.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
One Night Stands: Spire of Iron and Crystal (Swords and Wizardry)
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How Orcus Stole Christmas (Swords and Wizardry)
by Craig H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/26/2019 13:48:36

JUst a great adventure. Easy to adjust levels if needed. Small Sam will likely return in a future adventuring party.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
How Orcus Stole Christmas (Swords and Wizardry)
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How Orcus Stole Christmas (5e)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/19/2019 04:17:56

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 18 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters, who bought me the 5e-version of this adventure for the purpose of a review.

This is, obviously, a holiday-adventure intended for 4-6 characters of 3rd to 5th level. This is an old-school module in its challenge posed, which means that the group should be well-rounded and capable of withstanding combat properly; this is not an easy adventure, particularly if you play the adventure at the lower indicated levels. Level 3 will be a deadly experience indeed. As a huge plus that I enjoy to see, the module’s success or failure is very much contingent on roleplaying and smart players in a couple of instances – just rolling high won’t suffice.

The module comes with fully-presented boxed read-aloud text, and deserves a special mention for one phenomenal feature: It has maps for everything, and a MASSIVE map in the back that depicts the ENTIRE REGION, including all adventure sites – and it does so without SPOILERS via legends/key or secret door indicators – you could, printer provided, print this in a huge version, and slowly unroll it as the PCs explore it. Awesome. The map is full color, by the way.

Structurally, the module is actually very linear, but it does a pretty solid job concealing this fact.

Of course, holiday module does not equate holiday module – from darkly-humorous yarns like Zzarchov Kowolski’s “Down in Yon Forest” to the DCC series of holiday modules, to Everybody Games’ masterpiece Yuletide Terror, there are plenty of different styles and themes out there. This module, as a whole, goes an odd angle: The ridiculous happiness of holiday cheer is contrasted with jaded PCs, which results in a sense of a module that feels a bit curmudgeonly regarding Christmas etc., but at the same time actually likes it. You know, like that uncle or grandpa who keeps telling you that they don’t like the holidays, but still cherishes everything related to it, even though they’d never admit to it. Unlike e.g. DCC’s modules, the theme evoked here focuses less on the pagan origins of Yuletide, and more on a Seuss-like take. This module could be seen as homage to the Grinch.

In many ways, this feels like an incredibly American holiday module, poking fun at the saccharine components of the holiday – though always in good jest, and often in a genuinely heart-warming way. If your heart is as black as mine, that is. ;P That being said, I wouldn’t run this as written for kids – it does have a few rather dark scenes.

All righty, and that’s as far as I can go without SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! The module takes place in some wintry landscape, and starts off when the PCs happen upon the idyllic halfling village of Newville, with tendrils of smoke rising from it. Newville is a halfling community of painfully naïve and saccharine halflings, who, in the “rapture of holiday joy” do not notice the crueltide elves under the command of the demon known as Orcus’ Claws taking all tools and metal from the village, potentially dooming everybody here.

The halflings continue singing their cheery songs while gathering their dead and attempting to get their village back in order – e.g. using a blade-less axe-handle; the tone here is surreal and definitely funny, something enforced by the mayor’s chocolate cookies as a kind of premium currency to get e.g. a blessing or the like.

The trail leads the PCs through the forest, where one of my favorite encounters await – a skeleton, who constantly asks questions – and attempting combat is not wise, for it can force you to dance yourself to death. It’s not malignant, however, so clever characters can get rid of the skeleton with the right roleplaying angle. I loved to see that!

The trek through the wilderness and up towards Orcus’ Claws’ workshop is mainly-defined by the unique adversaries – from evil snow-men to aforementioned crueltide elves, the individual creatures deserve special mention, for they do carry a lot of the module, going above and beyond what we usually get for 5e-critters: the crueltide elves, for example, have a whole array of weaponized toy-contraptions that include wind-up toy soldiers, deadly BB-guns, or self-wetting toys that generate slick terrain. Orcus’ Claws does have a sleigh, a magical artifact level 3-part-artifact that desperate (or vile) characters might well use…The module also contains 4 minor magical items, and we do get stats for the demonic reindeer of Orcus’ Claws – yes, with appropriately demonic names. Two of the crueltide elf bosses get individual stats, and so does Orcus’ Claws, who gets deadly lumps of coal and the potent cruel tidings ability. Combat-wise, this is a pretty awesome scenario, particularly regarding the finale, where Orcus’ Claws unleashes a snowbeast, as he makes ready to rain yuletide blight upon the land, with the clock ticking for the party to stop the sleigh. The snowbeast is a grand chaos-factor – far beyond the abilities of the party to quickly dispatch, it might well collapse the sleigh hangar, potentially “rocks fall, all die”-ing everyone, so yeah, furious and truly cool finale. The downside here is that the module is not as consistent with the approaches it accounts for – it very much assumes a frontal approach, and while alarms are a thing, the module is not as consistent with the consequences as it should be – stealthy parties e.g. don’t get bonuses for e.g. giving in to the deal of a demonic reindeer that might well cause an alarm, nor is there a benefit to arriving in the hangar with maximum stealth. The choice, the seeming focus on consequences, is just an illusion – a well-executed one, but still. This particularly is relevant in 5e, where time is an important factor – the issue of long rest scumming is not really addressed, and while the finale makes everything seem nailbitingly close, a time limit is never properly established, which makes that component, once more, actually scripted.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and rules-language level. Scott Mckinley and Edwin Nagy deserve special applause here for their 5e-conversion: I rarely get to see one that is so well-executed, that feels so organic. Layout adheres to a red-tinted variant of the usual Frog god Games’ two-column standard, with red headers and a surprising amount of full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and the presence of a proper, player-friendly version of the map of the region and dungeon is fantastic.

James M. Spahn’s holiday module was a pleasant surprise for me. This adventure might not have the ambition of being an epic yarn, but it gets the Grinch-homage angle well; from Orcus’ Claws cheerfully-bloodsoaked gown to the smaller tidbits, the theme is thoroughly well-executed. From Small Sam (obvious Dickens reference) to the other components, this does its theme well. The monsters, the encounters, the NPCs – all of that is very well executed.

However, as noted in the spoiler-section, the module is more linear and scripted than is really needs to be; to a degree where I frankly found it slightly irritating. It’d have been very easy to make this work in a less scripted/linear fashion without using up ample wordcount. So yeah, this is a good adventure; potentially a very good one, depending on how you stand regarding this type of structure, but for me, this slightly detracted from the appeal of an otherwise charming take on the Grinch. My final verdict will hence be 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
How Orcus Stole Christmas (5e)
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Rappan Athuk Expansions - Pathfinder
by Michael P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/07/2019 12:00:46

It is one of the all-time best underworld exploration campaigns with exxotic locals and wird environments. My only complaint is that the S&W edition is way nicer to handle at the table, as it is more compact and condenses the stat-blocks better.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Rappan Athuk Expansions - Pathfinder
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Tome of Horrors Complete (Swords and Wizardry)
by Peter S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/19/2019 22:41:17

Phenomenal resource, loads of ideas. I love how this series includes little mini adventure seeds that tell you how players might encounter each monster.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Tome of Horrors Complete (Swords and Wizardry)
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Swords and Wizardry Complete Rulebook
by Michael L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/03/2019 00:14:03

Retroclone of 0 edition with all the bells & whistles. Well written & worth the purchase.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Swords and Wizardry Complete Rulebook
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