The Tomb of Xenophon
The first 5e release by Middle Kingdoms Adventures and Trading Company, authored by Frank Turfler, clocks in at all of 2-pages.
This pdf is a micro-dungeon adventure, and as such my brief discussion of the supplement contains minor SPOILERS. Potential players should kindly find an exit and stop reading.
So this is pretty much what it says in the product description—a micro-dungeon of seven rooms on a single page. In such a limited space, I don’t expect epic storylines. But the Tomb of Xenophon hints at one, even though it isn’t fully realized in the text. Long ago a tyrannical sorcerer king named Xenophon was struck down and his army scattered in an epic battle. The slain warlord’s body was carried off by the remnants of his army and buried in a tomb built from the bones of the fallen.
To commemorate the victory, a rune stone, which came to be known as ‘the Sorcerer’s Stone’, was raised in the city near where the epic battle was won. Time marched on and Xenophon was confined to ancient history. Today, the city of Stonehold has been struck a deadly blow by plague. A local priest believes the Sorcerer’s Stone is to blame. He believes the stone is cursed, that it rightly belongs to Xenophon and should have been buried deep and dark with its fallen master. He pleads for PCs to steal the artifact and place it in the lair, sealing it and its evil away forever.
Wow. That’s pretty epic and intense stuff. Sadly, two-pages aren’t enough to allow Turfler to explore this any further. The theft of the stone and the journey to the tomb is hand-waived away. The adventure begins where many dungeon-crawls do: at the entrance to the tomb, with the PCs on the precipice of whatever dangers lurk ahead.
Turfler manages to fit the dungeon on a single page by way of a pretty ingenious design decision: Room descriptions are absolutely barebones, making use of default stats and with only the most relevant of details, and confined a box of text adjacent to the relevant room. This by definition means that details are sparse, there’s little in the way of elaboration of story, and some questions—including one or two that are really important to the plot—remain unanswered (GMs will need to work them out on their own).
While exploring the tomb adventurers are faced with standard low-level foes to vanquish, a handful of traps and obstacles to overcome, a simple puzzle to solve, and some treasure to loot. Other than that, it’s, well, a 7-room tomb. That being said, the module does something interesting I did not expect—the big bad has already risen and gone from his tomb. Further adventure awaits! Cool.
Editing and formatting are very good, and the the Tomb of Xenophon is balanced for a group of first level characters (though curiously nowhere is it actually written what levels the adventure is designed for). The cover is gorgeous, evoking a sense of dread and deadly peril within the tomb. The cartography is beautiful and the layout so utilitarian that the adventure can literally be picked up and played in minutes, or indeed even on the fly.
This mini-adventure is, imho, best used as a quick pick-up when a game-master simply must have a scenario for his players and needs it like NOW. The game-master should have some experience under her belt, however, as she will need to fill in gaps the sparse text inevitably creates.
The actual tomb is not particularly inspired, but in one page there’s only so much detail, story or innovation one can expect. Yet the scenario manages to evoke an impressive amount of atmosphere—mostly as a result of the backstory—in a mere two pages.
If not for the sheer utility is represents it would probably fall in the 2.5-3 star range. But as a scenario that can be used at a moment’s notice for a couple hours of dungeon-crawling, at a $1.99 price point, it definitely represents good value. My final verdict: 3.5 stars.