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Advanced Adventures #28: Redtooth Ridge
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/21/2020 04:48:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 9 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.

This module, as always for the series, was penned with the OSRIC-rules in mind; as always, we have some deviations from OSRIC’s formatting standards, though – there are no italics in the formatting for things traditionally formatted thus, instead using bolding indiscriminately for spells, creatures and items. As always, the adventure features no read-aloud text, and otherwise adheres very much to the classic standards and presentation, including fonts used, etc.

The adventure is designed for 6-10 characters of first to third level, and it is in many ways a module I’d consider suitable as an introductory adventure to old-school gaming for experienced players. While the adventure suggests packing a ranger, this is not required to solve the module. Difficulty-wise, this is a difficult beast, but it is fair in its challenges. If anything, one can picture this as a take on the vanilla-adventure done right.

…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? Great! So, there is this notion of the “vanilla” adventure; for me, that would be the generic standard dungeon, with goblins, orcs and perhaps a ghoul or two. As a boss, we have an ogre or a shadow, and if it’s a shadow, the entity can probably be beaten by turning off the magical light or using it in some way. I’ve read essentially this set-up so often it really pisses me off. Not because the concept is bad, but because almost every module using this set-up does so in a way that is incredibly redundant and bland, plagiarizing essentially a card-board cutout standard for first modules.

Redtooth Ridge does have a similar set-up, but executes it in a genuinely FRESH and EXCITING manner.

Let’s start with the set-up: Redtooth Ridge is a butte in a forest, but not any ole’ butte: Instead, it was once part of an area where the rich and powerful had their mansions, and it once contained a massive guest house. Regarding environment, we thus already have something infinitely more compelling than “hole/cave in the ground.”

And then we proceed: For once, while there is a goblin presence, it boils down to hunting/scouting parties. These are led by smart leaders, and behave in an organic manner…oh, and the ogre? He kicks off the module. In many ways, the first encounter is a trial by fire: An old cobbled road leads its winding way up the butte, and the ogre is currently having a break, consuming the disgusting equivalent of a snack there. The PCs, if they handle the situation well, can get the drop on the ogre (rewarding smart play), who btw. does not necessarily want to fight to the death (teaches the importance of morale). Moreover, the encounter can turn nasty, for the ogre is currently being observed by a goblin scouting party. Players waiting might well witness the party attacking the ogre and pick off the two parties, teaching that sometimes waiting is smart. Moreover, if they beat the ogre, their state is important – do they mop the floor with him? Bluster about? Or whine? The goblins are watching, and if they think they can kill the PCs, they’ll try to! If they observed less armored targets, or spellcasters in particular, that’s where they’ll concentrate fire on. In many ways, this encounter teaches basic tenets of old-school roleplaying, of player skill and adaptability to new situations in a formidable, if deadly manner. It’s the first encounter, so if this does TPK the group (a distinct likelihood for 1st level characters), a new group can come without having lost much progress.

This is a trial by fire encounter, but it is a genuinely well-executed one. It also makes the players aware of the importance of their actions – for example, the second hunting party will come; and if the PCs are careless, they’ll be tracked – and potentially face an ambush or minor siege-like scenario. Another teaching moment would be one of the random encounters that PCs can happen upon – as a whole, the table is pretty conservative and manageable – but there is also a giant slug here that has recently arrived in the area. It is obviously tougher than all other challenges here. The world is not scaled for the PCs. If they attack it, they’ll learn that the hard way.

In many ways, this is an important lesson, and enhances the overall plausibility of the region depicted here, and one that also is the foundation of the very adventure hooks: You see, the primary hook is about the PCs securing a wooden cup made from oak, stolen from a dryad by small, man-like creatures. The mites and pesties have NO CLUE about the importance of the object, and indeed, have no real bearing on the locations. They just happen to live here after losing their home. The angle is basic, but its implementation enhances the whole notion of a lived-in world.

The eponymous ridge holds two primary adventure locales – one being an old mausoleum, the other being the ruins of the former guest house. The mausoleum only sports 7 keyed locales, and is in many ways a “teach you to handle ghouls” scenario – it is very much optional, and houses 14 ghouls. Striding in with brandished weapons is a bad idea, but small groups can wage a pretty efficient war of attrition on them, as their numbers don’t replenish. Still, as a whole, the mausoleum is perhaps best considered to be a little bonus-dungeon.

You see, the guest mansion with its massive grounds, stables, and the like? It is awesome. The mansion still houses a guardian statue that keeps evil creatures at bay – and once the PCs realize that, they may use it to their advantage. The mansion’s ruins make sense in many ways – from a huge amount of rats ruining many of the books in the library tower, to its structure. Speaking of the library tower: Enterprising players can deal with the rats and then salvage quite a few books, all coming with notes on weight, title and value, conveniently spelled out for you; you’re not selling some book; you’re selling “The Laws of Manip.” It’s small flourishes like this that make me really enjoy a module; this type of thing shows that the designer CARED.

Speaking of which: This commitment to plausibility can be seen in all details of the mansion. For example, there is a corpse haunted by the spirit of a prim and proper lady infuriated by the incompetence of a servant. This erstwhile guest can possess PCs to make them attack the “servants” – who is by now unfortunately a zombie in the cellar. This is not a save or suck, but an encounter that rewards rolling with the punches, and one that also tells the players something about the mindset of the former inhabitants.

Beyond that, no traps are placed in stupid places; secret doors make sense, green slime is in the pantry, where it makes sense…and obviously, the somewhat scandalous magical properties of the place can be found in specific…öhem…pleasure rooms…in the cellar. Did I mention that clever PCs have a chance to free planatars from their vigil? My favorite would, however, be the secret treasure room: In most adventures, that’d be after the toughest encounter. Here, it is hidden in a thoroughly plausible and CLEVER way. The treasure is guarded by a creature that has a very good chance of killing the PCs…but once more, player skill is the name of the game. If the party was smart, they may well have found a ring that allows them to bypass the guardian, potentially absconding with a phenomenal haul of loot. And while the treasure is significant, I think it is genuinely well-earned here! If the party finds this place, they certainly deserve the loot!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series classic b/W-2-columnh standard, including old-school fonts. The adventure is lite on artwork, as usual. Cartography is functional, but no player-friendly maps are provided, which is the one thing the module kinda botches in my book.

Joseph Browning shows how you can execute not only a great, challenging adventure in a few pages, he also shows how you can execute a “vanilla” adventure without being boring. If I’d list the components on a sheet of paper, this’d at best elicit groans from me. As presented here, the adventure is exciting, challenging, fair, and frankly, one of my favorites in the entire series. It’s easier to write an outstanding module when you throw weird stuff everywhere – but executing the standards and wringing a captivating and concise identity from it? Now that is impressive. Now, sure – the mausoleum and lack of player-friendly maps are strikes against the module, but frankly, I genuinely didn’t mind as much here. This is a module that deserves a resounding recommendation. 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #28: Redtooth Ridge
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Advanced Adventures #27: Bitteroot Briar
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/14/2020 05:37:03

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 2/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 9 1/3 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.

This module, as always for the series, was penned with the OSRIC-rules in mind; as always, we have some deviations from OSRIC’s formatting standards, though – there are no italics in the formatting for things traditionally formatted thus, instead using bolding indiscriminately for spells, creatures and items. This module is not always consistent when doing so, missing quite a few references – more than usual for the series. As always, the adventure features no read-aloud text, and otherwise adheres very much to the classic standards and presentation, including fonts used, etc.

The adventure is designed for 4-8 characters of levels 2nd to 4th, and the module suggests having a nature-themed character (you know, a druid or ranger) on board. I’d add one thing: If you run this RAW, you should not have evil PCs in the group, or modify the “good” end. The module’s locale has a unique feature that might warrant some GM-consideration, but otherwise is easily inserted into any forested area where once people warred, and now a humble village is nearby. Integration into ongoing campaigns is pretty simple. The module actually starts off in the tiny hamlet of Ipwich, and a proper rumor-table is included. As always for the series, no read-aloud text is provided. As far as difficulty is concerned, this is a tough, but fair adventure: Careless PCs may face annihilation, but the module emphasizes PLAYER-skill in just the right way.

It should be noted that I particularly consider this to be an adventure potentially worth converting to other rules-systems – why? Well…

…in order to discuss this, I’ll need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? So, first of all, the kids of Ipwich are a bit creepy, and have a fully-fleshed out song they sing while playing; this song actually contains hints for surviving the trials of the eponymous Bitteroot Briar, so attentive PCs will have an edge. Love that bit of lore! Speaking of which: Ghostly whispers in the wind? Actually relevant, not just creepy window-dressing! The hamlet’s master is currently being poisoned by a dangerous individual (who might ingratiate themselves to the PCs, hereafter referred to as “the poisoner” to avoid spoiling the identity), and the only cure is inside the Bitteroot Briar.

There are a few issues, though: For once, the woods are not exactly safe; secondly, the eponymous briar is the result of an ancient war gone wrong, creating a circle of thorns around a grove – and said circle not only distorts time spent inside, it also shrinks those entering to 1 inch in size, and prevents exiting, save by shapeshifting magic. Some creatures are exempt from this, and the Ironwood’s denizens have learned…for example a nasty troll. At this level. Told you that this doesn’t play around! The module lists movement per round for the common values (60, 90 and 120 ft.), and normal-sized items miniaturize automatically when touched by a shrunk target; ceasing to hold onto an item has it slowly regain its size. This is an AMAZING angle. I ADORE it. I would have preferred that the module was more detailed in its use of this fantastic premise, though. We waste half a page on a needlessly complex background story regarding the ancient conflict, when the whole shrinking angle would have warranted some further notes. You see, unintelligent creatures like mudmen are exempt, and act as more of a cataclysmic hazard than an actually aggressive critter, but the pdf does not state how e.g. an attack from a shrunk target to a regular-sized one fares. This does not necessarily need to come up in play, but it’d have been nice to get at least some guidance. Same goes for the “dead trees” – you see, the trees of the grove often sport items embedded in them, due to being victims of the past, and the objects contain the souls of these unfortunates. Removing them from the grove frees the souls, which imho should have suggested rewards regarding experience, items, etc.

That being said, I’m super-tired of nitpicking what I otherwise consider a phenomenal adventure: The ancient magics unleashed have changed the combatants of yonder, and e.g. a company of soldiers is now living as essentially fascist bees; one of the villains has been, suitably, turned into a snake, and traumatized adventurers that have survived the predations of the shapechanging poisoner may well attack the PCs, mistaking them for allies of the dark. The pools include a man-turned-crayfish with a rivalry with a man-turned-frog; we have a sociopath turned gruesome spider-man hybrid, a giant ant mini-dungeon…and there is the island in the middle, surrounded by pools and streams.

Falling into the stream bisecting the thorn-wall-encased briar might put the drowning PCs in service of a pretty nice water weird, to note one example of how the module is tough, but fair. The BBEG, the guy turned into a nasty giant snake, wants to execute the Rite of the Reaper, and the poisoner is actually in league with him…with this dark rite, escape may be possible, but at a terrible price, including the willow at the heart of the briar filling with acid in a surprisingly cinematic final encounter! There is one complaint I have here on a meta-level – the giant ant mini-dungeon, while not bad, isn’t exactly required for the module; having the place where the finale takes place properly mapped would have imho been the wiser use of the map-budget.

However, the best thing about this module? The most important thing here is ROLEPLAYING. Those ghostly whispers and how the PCs behaved in the adventure while interacting with the other denizens? That influences the end! You see, the voice in the wind is actually that of a magical, sapient blade, and finding the pummel, rebutting the Reaper’s rite, acting in an upstanding manner? All of that and more influence whether the blade will awaken to its true power. This emphasis on player-skill, on rewarding ROLEPLAYING over rolling the dice, is one of the cornerstones of good adventure design in my book. Huge kudos.

In case you were wondering, by the way: If you want an adventure to give Everybody Games’ Microsized Adventures a spin in PFRPG, this is perfect – just add stats, et voilà! Same goes for other systems. This is worth converting.

Conclusion: Editing is good on a formal and rules-language level; the mechanical aspect, as noted, would have warranted more detail. Regarding formatting, the module has a few more deviations from the series’ standard than usual. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, with few artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography is b/w and functional – a table of travel times in the briar would have been nice to have, though.

I absolutely adore Lang Waters’ module. This is a prime example of how awesome a module you can write in a few pages. From the small touches to the fair challenges to the focus on player skill over just rolling high, this is a prime example of a great old-school module. If anything, the only true flaws of this module lie in it not fully capitalizing on its unique angle inside the briar; some GM-convenience like travel times, additional notes on interaction with the non-affected and the like, and this’d have been pretty much a true apex of the series. As provided, it is an adventure I love, but one that has a few minor blemishes that may render it harder to pull off for less experienced GMs. Most troublesome would be in that regard that the final encounter area isn’t mapped. As such, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars. Usually, I’d round down, but this is the author’s first offering, and I traditionally am a bit more lenient on freshman offerings, which is why this review will round up. If anything, this author should get to write A LOT more adventures! As a person, this really excited me and is one of my highlights in the series so far, and hence, this also gets my seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #27: Bitteroot Briar
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Advanced Adventures #26: The Witch Mounds
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/12/2020 10:58:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 2/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 9 1/3 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.

This module, as always for the series, was penned with the OSRIC-rules in mind; as always, we have some deviations from OSRIC’s formatting standards, though – there are no italics in the formatting for things traditionally formatted thus, instead using bolding indiscriminately for spells, creatures and items. This module is not always consistent when doing so, missing a few references. The module, as always, features no read-aloud text, and otherwise adheres very much to the classic standards and presentation, including fonts used, etc.

The adventure is penned for 6-10 characters of 3rd to 6th levels, with the adventure suggesting a few fighters and a cleric at least; while not required per se, I’d argue that classes with anti-undead tricks in particular, will contribute to the party’s survival. The surface and dungeon levels feature their own random encounter tables, which also feature some instances for dressing. Themes featured are a more complex question, and in order to go into that, I have to discuss the details…Hence…

All right, this being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, “The Witch Mounds” kicks off in a pretty exciting manner – we have an ancient Maerling burial site, eponymous mounds. What are Maerlings? Well, consider them to be essentially evil Vikings in aesthetics, which is also supplemented by the new monsters: We have the svart-alfar, which are basically the nasty dwarf-like figures of Norse myth, northern trolls petrified by light, and the haugbui, which are basically undead einherjar with berserker rages – not per se exciting, but thematically fitting, and the module plays this theme well – the great mound among the surface features sports the first of runic carvings written in the Maerlings’ Frost tongue, and these are certainly flavorful. Things get better, when the PCs inspect the massive ship inside the burrow: Proper interaction teleports the PCs into the dungeon proper, and initiates a cooldown, so for some time, the PCs will be down below.

At this point, I was genuinely on board with the whole thing – I mean, how cool is the dark twist on th familiar, Norse mythology? The grave ship teleport? That’s damn cool! And the dungeon per se, structurally, is non-linear, covers two levels, and almost 90 keyed locales, so plenty of space for cool stuff! There are two mazes, talking doors (with solid riddles!), and classic tricks like disorienting teleporters. There is an arena, where the foolhardy can test their mettle in duels versus potent monsters and gain a mighty, magical sword if they best the arena’s master…and that’s pretty much all the positive things I can say about this module.

You see, in the dungeon, the Norse theme established above falls pretty much apart and is relegated to window-dressing. The haugbui chief is called “Jormungandr” and has a winter wolf, who is dubbed…no, not Fenrir! Hate. The fellow is called “Hate.” There is an evil cleric called “Thursasprengir.” If that got a groan out of you, well, it did from me. The svart-alfar chieftain is called “Huldra.” Here’s the thing: A Huldra is a very distinct creature in folklore. It has nothing to do with svart-alfar. The dungeon btw. also features a medusa, minotaurs, etc. Oh, and in spite of the module sporting a new deity, there is a shrine of Loki that has deck of many things-lite-like effects. So, is it a new cosmology? Is it the one we’d associate with quasi-Norse cultures? No idea.

Beyond the ship teleport, the dungeon suddenly turned into a funhouse-type operation that seriously gave me whiplash. I don’t object to modules making use of all that D&D has to offer, but when you coat everything with a Norse layer, including appropriating names/nomenclature, why not go all the way? The whole Maerling culture presented, to me, feels like an ill-informed patchwork of someone who only has rudimentary ideas; it is an appropriation that doesn’t sport the attention to detail that’d make it come alive. This is in as far problematic, as information and logic pertaining stuff like that informs how we play.

As another example, let’s take the best of the new magic items, the barrel of endless mead, which ahs a good chance of forcing you to drink until you’re utterly wasted. That is reminiscent of Thor attempting to drink the oceans, right? It’s also potentially funny. So why is there nothing in the dungeon that rewards being drunk? Why are trolls and svart-alfar essentially kill-fodder? I can see the haugbui, kinda…but they are another wasted chance. Inverse einherjar? Cool! Drinking with the undead to not get slaughtered, appealing to twisted senses of bravery and honor – this concept has SO MUCH POTENTIAL.

To be 100% clear: This is not a bad dungeon, but it feels like the dungeon was attached to the surface, with all cultural references just added with a VERY thin coat of paint on it. After the evocative start, we get a pretty unfocused dungeon through which you murder-hobo. I haven’t seen a premise this strong wasted this thoroughly in a long, long while.

Conclusion: Editing is very good on a formal and rules-language level; formatting is less well-executed. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports b/w-artwork and serviceable b/w-maps. No player-friendly versions of the maps are provided. On the plus-side, the pdf comes fully bookmarked.

Keith Sloan’s “The Witch Mounds” started super-strong and genuinely had me PUMPED. The surface area and means of entering the dungeon? AMAZING.

Unfortunately, that’s when the module drops the ball big time; it is inconsistent when taken as a Norse-themed module; when arguing instead that it’s supposed to be its own culture, it’s too derivative without being interesting. It felt like the author had some cursory pop-culture familiarity with some Norse stuff, and then called it quits without elaborating/expanding. The base angle and pitch this must have had? I can see that working very well. The execution used here, though, is less than inspired, and frankly, annoyed me. Even the “unique” challenges are paint-by-the-numbers old-school design 101: Riddle-doors? Check. Arena? Check. Evil temple? Check. Random weirdness for great gains or losses for the group? Check.

This is not just a disappointing dungeon due to not being “authentic” – I don’t necessarily want that! It’s annoying and disappointing because it throws references at us, but does so in a way that feels just wrong…and then doesn’t contextualize these references in new and interesting ways. This is easily one of my least-favorite modules in the whole series, a tonally-inconsistent and unfocused crawl. I’d recommend most adventures in the series over this one. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #26: The Witch Mounds
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Advanced Adventures #25: The Heart of Empire
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/11/2019 07:28:18

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, 1/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 6 2/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This module is part of a series of reviews made possible by my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience. Like all adventures in the series, this module is penned for the OSRIC-rules system (based on 1e), and like all adventures in the series, rules-language formatting deviates from the standards of OSRIC, but is pretty consistent, so functionality is not impeded. Spells and magic items are bolded. The adventure is intended for 6-10 adventurers of levels 1 – 3. Wait, doesn’t the cover say otherwise? Yep, but the editorial page has the correct level-range stated, and the module’s actual text also confirms this – level 1 -3 it is. At levels 3-5 as the cover suggests, the adventurers, even considering the lesser degree of power-gain of old-school editions, curbstomp the opposition. Considering that the adventure isn’t that difficult as far as old-school games are concerned, I’d strongly suggest using it up to 2nd level, at the very highest – unless you really want to play it safe. The plus-side here would be that conversions to systems that assume a very low power-level is pretty easy.

The module provides functional cartography for its two levels, and no read-aloud text is included. The supplement includes a level 1 magic-user spell that is pretty interesting – blood servant, a means for low-level characters to cast animate dead at essentially the cost of permanent damage while the servant exists. I like this. It imposes a serious toll to offset the power-gain.

As far as setting is concerned, this one does something pretty nifty: It assumes a kind of second renaissance of a decadent late-Roman empire style place, one that went through a period of conflict, which saw parts of it squashed and sunken beneath the ground in a magical cataclysm: Picture e.g. Calligula’s reign being ended by a magocracy, with Rome rebuilt atop the old ruins, and you have a good idea of the theme here. The background provided, this notion of the graveyard of empires, is something that resonates with me – and indeed, the module does reflect this type of flavor in both keyed and random encounters. The module covers two levels, but only one of them features a random encounters table, which is a bit of a pity.

Indeed, I wholeheartedly suggest that, if anything, you should use this module in the context of a quasi-Greco-Roman civilization, mainly because it is the main draw of the module, or at least, it was for me. I have played through this adventure with my group, which finished it in ~7 hours, and it is one of the adventures that plays better than it reads. Do note that my players are very fast, experienced, and efficient at clearing dungeons at this point – no surprise there.

Okay, this out of the way, from here on out, the SPOILERS reign. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, bad news first: The first dungeon-level is actually a sewer-level. Moreover, it is a sewer-level without a distinct theme in multiple ways. The module offers several adventure hooks, which are not bad per se, and tie in with the various factions. In a way, the sewer-level consists of individual encounter-areas close to each other – the hidden base of the slaver, the failed necromancer’s laboratory, the exiled kobold tribe…these per se are not special, but they do mean that there are quite a bunch of things going on, including disgruntled gladiators. This is also where one of the new monsters, essentially a ball of tentacles with an (inefficient) mouth may be encountered – this monster was a better experience than it read, mainly by diverging from the expected “draw target to mouth”-angle. The sewer is, in essence, just a thoroughfare towards the second level, which is a decadent noble’s sunken villa, including a little arena.

Considering this, the sewers do a relatively neat job – but they, like many of the less successful sewer-levels, fail to capitalize on their environment. Where is the danger to contract diseases? How deep is the muck/waste if/when the PCs inevitably fall in? Is it a quick-flowing, pretty liquid stream? Is it more like quicksand? No idea. So yeah, as far as global terrain features influencing adventuring, the module doesn’t do a good job. (And never mind sewer gas or stuff like that…won’t find any of that here.)

The aforementioned second level is significantly more interesting, posing, among other things, an optional boss – an undead gladiator that needs to be solo’d to end his misery…and without honorable combat? Well, then the low-level group will learn the hard way that refusing the honorable duel will shore up its defenses. This dust centurion is certainly one of the toughest, perhaps the toughest encounter herein, but if the PCs triumph honorably, they will be rewarded duly. Ending the boredom of an undead senator? Also pretty interesting. These encounters are surprisingly compelling for the brief page-count, and they capitalize on the implied setting. They do lose some of their flavor if not run in the proper context, hence my recommendation above regarding the cultural backdrop. (I happen to be GMing currently in a quasi-late-Roman decadent city, so that worked rather well.) That being said, the module should have done a better job highlighting the height-differences between arena stands/lodge and arena, if any. It should be noted that it might make sense to use all adventure hooks, and not just one, for quite a few of them can actually be solved on the sewer level.

Anyhow, this notion of wrecked magical decadence is also reflected in e.g. an old garden, maintained by magic in the absence of light, which featured a variant of one of my favorite monsters of all time – the tri-flower-frond, which I used to almost TPK my very first group, traumatizing my players regarding plant monsters to this very day. Though, here, it’s an agave with similar abilities – the third new monster included here. I am aware that it is essentially a slight redesign and reskin, but it is one that perfectly hit one of the few mushy soft spots I have as a reviewer and GM. So yeah, that critter actually got a combination of dread and cheerful nostalgia at the table – something that very rarely happens.

IS there an overarching story? Not really. Instead, these are several disparate quests, tied together by proximity; and while none of them are truly remarkable, they gel together surprisingly well; better than they have any right to, considering the brevity of the adventure…or rather, encounter-selection, for that may be a better way of thinking about this module.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ no-frills b/w 2-column standard, and the pdf features no extra interior artwork beyond the one on the cover and the piece on the editorial page. Cartography is b/w and functional, though not exactly mind-blowing; much to my continued chagrin, no player-friendly versions are included. And yes, I will complain about the lack of player-friendly maps in every single module lacking them. On the plus-side, the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

This is Brenton Wilson’s freshman adventure (apologies to you, Sir, if your name is “Benton” instead; OBS has you listed thus, but I assumed the module to be correct here) as far as I could tell, and I seriously should hate it. For one, it’s a sewer-level, and it commits the deadly sin of not actually making its sewer feel, well, like a sewer. Its new monsters are anything but new, and rather fall more on the reskin side of things. It has no central leitmotif, and feels like a disjointed series of encounters, because that’s what it essentially is. It spends a third of a page of its sparse wordcount explaining the history of a city we don’t get to see or explore.

I should HATE this.

I really, really don’t. Not even remotely. Yes, it is a disjointed series of little stories and encounters, held together by being lumped into a small section of a vast setting’s sewers. Yes, the monsters are reskins and nothing to mechanically get excited about. But it is VERY evident that this WAS playtested by the author. The challenge is on par and fair; the little stories that are here all have this small edge that show that the author genuinely cared – whether by cultural components, by reskinning of familiar monsters, that make it feel and play much better than it has any right to. If anything, the module’s one downside is the very strict wordcount it indubitably had to operate with. These encounters, this backdrop, deserved more room to shine. Even considering its shortcomings, I can’t claim that this was not fun; I can’t claim that this was mediocre. It should, by all accounts, have been, but it’s not. It is surprisingly enjoyable, and I’d recommend it over the combined total of Alphonso Warden’s Advanced Adventures any day of the week – I had more fun with the slightly more than 6 pages here. I genuinely would like to see more on this setting from Brent Wilson’s pen.

That being said, much of this joy is mainly founded upon the implicit backdrop setting – if you seek an adventure for the context of a traditional, non Greco-Roman fantasy city, then this will lose much of its appeal; you could still run it, but it’d lose its soul. It’s also predicated on how much you enjoy having this living little sewer-section with its small quests; in a way, I wouldn’t recommend this as a stand-alone adventure; instead, I’d suggest using it as a supplement to your own city, as some small questlines you can introduce when your players ignore your carefully-woven plot for a brief stint in the sewers.

This leaves me in a tough spot as a reviewer. On one hand, I really don’t think this should be considered to be a module of its own; and yet, on the other hand, it works, like a dungeon-version of a mini-anthology of sidequests and surprisingly interesting places. Ultimately, whether or not this will be as fun to you as it was for me and my group, will depend on the cultural context of the setting: If you do have a quasi Greco-Roman backdrop that has seen at least one cataclysm that’d have made a villa sunken beneath the sewers plausible, then get this – I am pretty sure, you’ll enjoy it! If you’re instead playing in a more traditional medieval context, then this might be less compelling. I trust your discretion for rounding up or down; personally, since this seems to be the author’s first adventure, I’ll round up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #25: The Heart of Empire
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Advanced Adventures #1: The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom
by José M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/14/2019 21:22:57

Loved it! Played it in 5e when my group decided to ignore the goblins attacking the town. The cleric died trying to sneak past a monster to get at the treasure it was keeping. The party was nearly killed while camping in a corridor. They decided to focus on the goblins again after being ambushed by the creepy fungus men. Good stuff!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #1: The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom
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Advanced Adventures #24: The Mouth of the Shadowvein
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/25/2019 05:10:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review is part of a series of requests undertaken at the request of my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience.

Okay, so, as always, this module is penned with the OSRIC rules in mind, but conversion to other OSR rulesets is relatively painless. As always, we don’t get read-aloud text herein, and there are a couple of formal differences from the formatting conventions that OSRIC employs, but these, for the most part, apply in a mostly consistent manner. Nominally intended for 6-10 characters of level 3- 5, the adventure is challenging, but mostly in a way that is contingent on how the PCs interact with the environments found and encountered. Attempting to murder-hobo through everything can and will get you killed here. While in the previous module, murder-hoboing PCs could still potentially get away with quite a few things, this stops here – dumb decisions can get PCs killed. Quickly. But similarly, smart PCs may actually be able to best foes far beyond their ability to defeat by force of arms alone. (More on that in the SPOILER-section.) In short: If your PCs is Lawful Stupid, they will die.

There is one more aspect you may need to be aware of: This module represents a taking up of a dangling thread from the very first Advanced Adventures-module, “The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom” and may be run as a direct sequel to said adventure; knowledge of the previous module is not required, and it is pretty easy to integrate this module into the context of any prolonged underworld campaign or exploration, whether they are mega-dungeon-based or subterranean sagas like AAW Games’ excellent Rise of the Drow campaign. This module also represents the second of two modules that expand the material based on the eponymous Shadowvein, which means that, unless you really don’t want to play the prequel, it’s recommend that you first play “Down the Shadowvein”. The Shadowvein, fyi, is a subterranean river, a black ribbon of water illuminated by purple and green lichen, with tendrils of almost snot-like strands hanging from them – colloquially known as “faerie sputum” to those traveling its length.

From a genre-perspective, we have, much like in its predecessor, a pretty free-form sandbox here – a subterranean hexcrawl, which cleverly uses the subterranean river Shadowvein as a kind of red thread that the PCs may or may not follow. The module does a pretty neat job at depicting the differences regarding the environment and sandbox style play: For one, we not only get different random encounter tables, they differentiate between passage types: You see, the overland hexcrawl map knows primary, secondary and tertiary passages, with different encounters suggested for each.

As a small digression: There are generally two aesthetic design paradigms regarding the underworld, two “genres” if you will: One would be the “civilized” underworld – a realm of vast dwarven fortresses and drow cities, where civilizations both alien and familiar thrive, and then there would be the “weird” underworld, where anything remotely resembling the civilized world vanishes, where strange and chthonian phenomena and creatures roam, where, depending on the setting, one might find entrances to the literal underworld, or even hell. This module, in a smart decision, provides a transition – the Shadowvein, as noted in my review of the predecessor module, very much starts as a trip through “civilized” underworld, while this module represents the PCs leaving these subterranean shores behind in favor of a stranger environments where few upperworlder soles have tread before. However, it does so without a hard cut into the strange, instead using the course of the river to slowly emphasize a transition towards these regions – and VERY FEW modules manage to achieve that; this is the primary reason I copped out and went with two final verdicts regarding my review of its predecessor. In a way, this module represents the payoff and continuation for the exploration of the first Shadowvein adventure.

Considering this, I do have to complain about something: Much to my chagrin and disappointment, the random encounter tables are the exact same as in the previous Shadowvein module (and no, some typo-level glitches haven’t been purged). The encounter tables focus primarily on humanoids, with very few other critters thrown in. This, to me, was somewhat galling, as the module starts transitioning between what one would dub the “civilized” regions of the underworld, and the region that starts to become truly alien and wondrous. As such, a change of pace regarding the tables would have been appreciated. I strongly suggest investing the time and making the random encounter tables more interesting, or rather, different, for this one.

Noja, undal and wyrdwolf stats have been included in this module as well, alongside 3 other creatures – since the exploration of the subterranean realms and the surprise they can elicit is part of the module’s charm, I’ll relegate my discussion of these to the SPOILER-section below.

As before, the player-map of the Shadowvein has been included with its intentional idiosyncrasies still representing one design decision I really enjoyed, and we do get 5 “zoomed-in”, fully mapped encounter areas. I minded the lack of player-friendly maps for them slightly less in most cases than I did for the previous adventure, though one in particular was just BEGGING for a player-friendly map: You see, there is a pretty massive hexcrawl region, with the map spanning two-pages – that one should have been included in a keyless, untagged version at least.

The module contains a couple of new magic items, which include the utilitarian svirfneblin forge stone, a rod that brings the undead back to horrid unlife, an amulet that enhances undead control, a chest that can store a spell to unleash upon intruders, and one item that would represent a SPOILER of sorts – just let it be known that there is a touch of science-fantasy included in the weird herein, with one of the “zoomed-in” adventure locations adhering to that aesthetic.

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

… .. .

Okay, only GMs around? Great! The first complex featured herein is already more interesting than all in the previous module combined: The lair of Tyrhanidies the lich features his well-concealed subterranean abode, and the mighty spellcaster is using undead as a toll-collecting means. This would per se be unremarkable, were it not for a curious effect haunting the labyrinthine caverns hiding his belongings and lair: There are strange magical effects here, where gravity doesn’t work properly, and something about them makes those exploring these caves turn stark, raving mad: An innocuous slime causes these visions magically to affect all intelligent creatures (yep, RAW, including the undead!) and the lich has found a way to deal with this, employing the curious property to further shore up his seriously impressive defenses. Now, granted, the PCs may find themselves bypassing this region relatively painless, but we all know how undead spellcasters tend to enjoy press-ganging PCs into doing their bidding…and how PCs are bound to come into conflict with such entities. Cool: Smart and observant PCs either called and escorted to the lich’s abode may realize that there is one object with tremendous sentimental value for the mighty master of the living dead. This, obviously, represents an angle to really annoy the fellow – or to negotiate with a being far beyond the capabilities of the PCs at this level to actually destroy! This is a great area indeed, and its focus on atmosphere, global effects and various means in which you can run it made me really appreciate what was done here.

The second encounter area is pretty much…boring. A grimlock ambush. It exists, but it doesn’t contribute too much to the module’s appeal. After that, we have a svirfneblin outpost that can be construed to be the final waystation of civilization along the Shadowvein’s course, a last chance to rest in a safe environment before the massive, aforementioned hex-crawl sub-region: In a ginromous cavern, the overgrown ruins of a drow city lurk in basically the equivalent of a jungle-choked city of ruins. You see, at one time, the drow that used to reside here managed to capture and harness the godling known as the Pod-God with the help of a demonic patron. It is said entity that ultimately managed to destroy the city, including the artifact employed in imprisoning the entity – this actually did slay the pod-god, but fungi will find a way, and as such, the deity is gestating currently – there will be centuries before the potent deity can reform, but this creates a wondrous environment indeed, one suffused with magic, where stone giants from eastern realms (with an inconsistency in nomenclature), mongrelman and more loom; this region is clearly intended to be expanded, and much to my joy, there are 4 different random encounter tables for each sub-biome of the massive cavern. Oh, one more thing: The gestating pod-god actually wasn’t neutral or evil – it was actually a good entity, and thus, its puffball is guarded by a planetar! With a gate that emits screaming noise and similar, unique environments, this cavern oozes panache and flair galore. This is a great cavern, and would be one of the highlights of the adventure – even remotely capable GMs will have some seriously fun time running and expanding this inspiring environment.

The final encounter are would be unique as well: It depicts the “Green Death Isle” – setting foot upon this island used to see those that dared to do so evaporated, so the hunk of metal there remained unexplored. Well, guess what? That hunk of metal? It’s a actually a flying saucer, and since then, the reactor has run out of fuel, and the defensive disintegration ray? It no longer works. In the aftermath of the reactor’s radiation, a unique people has developed here, namely the terplip, a race of sentient, humanoid mantis-shrimp people! If you’re like me, you raised your hands in the old devil’s horn-gesture and went “Hell yeah!” I mean, come on – mantis-shrimp people? Awesome! We have two different random encounter tables for this region as well, and this becomes even cooler once you learn about the crustacean dragon and the remaining robots – smart PCs may actually be able to save the terplip from their servitude to the draconic creature. Did I mention the laser pistol?

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good, bordering on very good, on a formal and rules-language level – apart from a few minor inconsistencies and the like, I noticed nothing glaring. Layout adheres to the series’ classic two-column b/w-standard, with a few decent b/w-artworks thrown in. The cartography does its job, and I really enjoyed the inclusion of a player-friendly map for the Shadowvein’s environments. It would have been nice to get player-friendly maps for the trade/social encounter areas at least, though. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Joseph Browning’s “The Mouth of the Shadowvein” delivers in spades – while two of the zoomed-in encounter areas provide pretty obvious functions and are here to facilitate play (the safe zone) or act as filler (the ambush), the other three regions are amazing. They require smart players and are more deadly than anything the PCs have found so far; there are implied quest-lines that may or may not be taken and used to motivate the players to interact with the factions, and the combination of unique vistas, as a whole, delivers on the promises slowly built up during the previous adventures, while taking up the leitmotif of the original adventure that spawned the notion of exploring the Shadowvein. In short: This is a great little adventure that does a nice job at depicting a region of the underworld that feels like it’s tip-toeing the line between the civilized and weird subterranean realms. It captures the best of early AD&D-aesthetics regarding these realms and molds them into a fun and rewarding expansion, one that ostensibly, like in the previous module, may be taken apart or expanded upon, should you choose to go that route. All in all, this is worth a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded up since the lack of a player-friendly map for the sub-region hexcrawl does not warrant rounding down, and this also receives my seal of approval. Come on, the terplip are awesome!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #24: The Mouth of the Shadowvein
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Advanced Adventures #23: Down the Shadowvein
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/21/2019 08:05:07

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review is part of a series of requests undertaken at the request of my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience.

Okay, so, as always, this module is penned with the OSRIC rules in mind, but conversion to other OSR rulesets is relatively painless. As always, we don’t get read-aloud text herein, and there are a couple of formal differences from the formatting conventions that OSRIC employs, but these, for the most part, apply in a mostly consistent manner. Nominally intended for 6-10 characters of level 3- 5, the adventure is challenging, but mostly in a way that is contingent on how the PCs interact with the environments found and encountered. Attempting to murder-hobo through everything can and will get you killed here.

There is one more aspect you may need to be aware of: This module represents a taking up of a dangling thread from the very first Advanced Adventures-module, “The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom” and may be run as a direct sequel to said adventure; knowledge of the previous module is not required, and it is pretty easy to integrate this module into the context of any prolonged underworld campaign or exploration, whether they are mega-dungeon-based or subterranean sagas like AAW Games’ excellent Rise of the Drow campaign. This module also represents the first of two modules that expand the material based on the eponymous Shadowvein, with “The Mouth of the Shadowvein” representing the second adventure and conclusion of the exploration. The Shadowvein, fyi, is a subterranean river, a black ribbon of water illuminated by purple and green lichen, with tendrils of almost snot-like strands hanging from them – colloquially known as “faerie sputum” to those traveling its length.

From a genre-perspective, we have a pretty free-form sandbox here – a subterranean hexcrawl, which, cleverly, uses the subterranean river Shadowvein as a kind of red thread that the PCs may or may not follow. The module does a pretty neat job at depicting the differences regarding the environment and sandbox style play: For one, we not only get different random encounter tables, they differentiate between passage types: You see, the overland hexcrawl map knows primary, secondary and tertiary passages, with different encounters suggested for each. As a whole, this module takes place in the “civilized” region of the underworld, with settlements and outposts providing a reflection of social dynamics and paradigms one could theoretically encounter in the sunlit world as well – it takes place in the realms of drow cities, dwarven holds, etc. The weirder aspects, where society and civilization tend to fall apart and be replaced with the truly strange may be found in the sequel, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The encounter tables thus focus primarily on humanoids, with very few other critters thrown in.

This is not to say that there is no strangeness here, mind you: There would, for example, be a need breed of monster, the furnace worm, that consumes rock and excretes valuable metals contained within; we are introduced to the subterranean trade-race dubbed “Noja”, 3- 4 ft. small humanoids with a penchant for mischief and trickery – almost like trader-fey/gnome-crossovers if you will. Interesting: The females and males of the race can cast different spells. The noja act as a kind of linchpin for the other two creatures introduced – the undal being pack animals with weird crowns of horns that allow them to execute nasty charges, and the wyrdwolves, which are basically canine critters with the ability to make their eyes glow in a blinding strobe that can temporarily blind prey. The latter may not sound like much, but personally, I enjoyed them. Their presentation makes them strange, yet plausible enough. It’s also nice to see the umber hulk concept regarding canines executed with a pretty different flavor here.

Much to my joy, the module remembered the hook of the PCs finding a map of the Shadowvein – a SPOILER-free player’s map of the Shadowvein has been provided, and yep, it does not feature issues and indeed, has some areas where it’s less reliable. I always like that kind of thing – big plus for going the extra mile here.

This module contains a total of 5 different “zoom-in” adventure locales that the PCs following the Shadowvein may find, and the map leaves enough space for GMs to add their own modules and encounters, should they choose to. These individual locales do come fully mapped, but in the case of a few of them, it’s pretty likely that the PCs could attain a map of the region, with no player-friendly version provided. This represents a comfort-detriment for folks like yours truly that suck at drawing maps. It should also be noted that this adventure contains two new magic items, though both, in some way, do influence the narrative, so if you’re curious about them, please consult the next section.

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

… .. .

Okay, only GMs around? Great! The first lair to be found deals with a goblin tribe in the middle of internal strife – two months ago, chief and sub-chief killed each other, and indeed, there are currently two factions vying for control over the goblin tribe. As a nice change of pace, PCs who don’t want to murder-hobo through everything may find themselves recruited into a kind of mini-investigation that may see them uncover the truth about how the unique culture of this tribe, which includes ritual bathing [!!] of younglings, was weaponized for the coup-d’état that split the tribe into its current state. As is wont with such scenarios, outsiders like the PCs may well be recruited to end the semi-stalemate between factions.

The second encounter area has some nice horror/dark fantasy-tones: Once an outpost of loathsome bugbears, they have since then been slain by a magical disease that usually only affects those of giant stock, which is particularly likely for half-orcs and similar characters. Only two bugbears remain, both of whom have been transformed into strange horrors. Slaying them has the miasma turn into a kind of entity, which then proceeds to disperse. This scene, alongside the emptied caverns, actually managed to evoke an atmosphere we only rarely get to see executed so well, so kudos for that!

The third encounter area, a noja trading post, is a kind of neutral ground, enforced by a unique statue of a six-armed woman with serpentine lower bodies: The aura of peace makes hostilities here a superbly bad idea, and indeed, veterans may have gleaned that the statue is indeed a marilith – who is not happy about her cursed state. One of the encounter locations does include a magical item, the Tooth of Gorim Graal, which fortifies against fire, but also is the focus for the binding…which could result in a massacre if the PCs find it and proceed to ignore the warnings…and unleashed marilith will not be something the traders, noja, etc. can stop…

There is a similar connection between the penultimate encounter area and the last one – the second unique magic item included would be the Traveling Hammer of Dorin Graybeard, a mighty weapon sacred to dwarves, which, while providing powerful boons, does consume a percentage of the wearer’s treasure collected, and which doesn’t take kind to any bad treatment a dwarf may suffer from the wielder. Which is relevant, for, at one point, the PCs can happen upon a pretty massive dwarven hold that features a portcullis and toll bridge. Obviously, this region is also more focused on roleplaying than on killing everything, which is a nice change of pace.

The final encounter-location is easily by far the most deadly thing contained in the module – “The Snide Dungeon of the Mad Mage Hallach” is basically a gauntlet devised by a mad wizard, one studded with snarky and snide comments delivered via magical means. As such, the PCs and players are warned – this is not a complex to be trifled with, and any casualties are their own fault – well, they had to press onwards, didn’t they? As a gauntlet, it is exceedingly linear and intended as a challenge that requires genuine player skill to beat. It also is a wandering dungeon, that is, it will vanish if the PCs try to whittle it down via repeated sojourns, and could make for a pretty nice 4-hour convention slot game on its own. While challenging, and indeed, in some instances almost sadistic, it always remains fair…though the somewhat random white dragon boss at the end felt like a bit much to me. I just dislike dragons being used as random bosses, but this will not influence my final verdict, as it is part of my personal bias. Then again, the unique magic items noted can be found in its hoard, and the PCs that managed to get this far will have earned the loot.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good, bordering on very good, on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ classic two-column b/w-standard, with a few decent b/w-artworks thrown in. The cartography does its job, and I really enjoyed the inclusion of a player-friendly map for the Shadowvein’s environments. It would have been nice to get player-friendly maps for the trade/social encounter areas at least, though. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Joseph Browning’s first part of the exploration of the Shadowvein is a nice subterranean sandbox; in contrast to previous hex-based explorations in the series like “Under Shattered Mountain”, it zooms in a bit more and provides some genuinely fun and diverse locations to visit. I would have enjoyed a few more quest-seeds regarding the respective areas – as written, the loot for the challenge-dungeon represents one of the few connecting components that tie the individual encounter locations together. If you’re looking for a trade route to include into your underworld, one that gets the aesthetics established in books like the ones dealing with a certain scimitar-wielding renegade right, then this delivers. I can see this work well in contexts beyond its system, and while it doesn’t reach the same level of mind-blowing awesomeness as some of the author’s other modules, it does represent a great little adventure. Now, personally, I’d have loved to see more encounters actually atop the Shadowvein, focusing more on the experience of the river itself, but that may be me. All in all, I consider this to be a nice adventure, and as such, my final verdict for this as a stand-alone module will be 4 stars. Please do note, that this also represents a set-up that transitions from more subdued aesthetics towards the ever stranger, its payoffs to a degree featuring in the sequel, so if you plan on going the whole way down the Shadowvein, then consider this to be 4.5 stars, rounded up instead.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #23: Down the Shadowvein
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Advanced Adventures #22: Stonepick Crossing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/30/2019 10:44:46

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure/supplement clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, ½ a page SRD, leaving us with 10.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by a supporter of my patreon, to be undertaken at my convenience.

All right, so, as always, this supplement was designed with the OSRIC rules in mind, though formatting conventions do somewhat deviate from the system’s established standard. The module is intended for characters level 1 – 3, though at first level, the experience of running this can be rather deadly. A well-rounded group is certainly suggested, and it should be noted that there is actually plenty of roleplaying in this supplement.

Supplement? Didn’t I claim this was a module? Yeah, well, both are correct. You see, in a way, this one treats a specific settlement like a dungeon, with a more conventional dungeon-level below. The module does not sport read-aloud text.

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

… .. .

All right, so Stonepick Crossing is testament to two dwarven virtues: Ingenuity, and the tendency to go overkill. When a clan of dwarves fought a particularly nasty, and well-entrenched goblin tribe, they refused to deplete their ranks by attacking the goblins’ excellent defensive positions, instead crafting a colossal dam – the eponymous Stone pick Crossing. The dwarves have moved on, the goblins have been drowned, and in the centuries since, the dam has persisted (for the most part!) the test of time. The dwarven craftsmanship has made the dam an excellent place for a waystation/trade-type of settlement, and as such, this settlement was born, with the locals living in the buildings left by the dwarves of old.

Stonepick Crossing as a settlement sports 3 levels – two levels on the dam, and one below the water surface; the latter, obviously, represents aforementioned more conventional dungeon level, though it’s not a place that PCs will immediately fin. Instead, they will interact with the surprisingly vivid cast of characters that may be found here. The short encounter-tables and detailed notes make it rather simple to generate a sense of an organic, lived-in location, and there is quite a lot of loot to be found. Due to the concept of a dwarven building repurposed as a village, there even are secret rooms that smart PCs can find – for this trade-hub has a dangerous black market that can be a very dangerous encounter if the PCs don’t behave. Beyond the knowledgeable beggar, we also have rather dangerous haunted locales here, and Stonepick Crossing has been suffering from mysterious disappearances, which are investigated by a none-too-subtle/smart investigator who might make for a good contact for good PCs.

At this point, I should also note that these disappearances actually are due to a rather dangerous individual capturing targets and selling them off into slavery. The dam-structure also means that not all rooms on e.g. the deep level are connected – one of the halves of the lowest level has seen the magics that keep out the water partially fail, flooding the place and providing egress to rather dangerous humanoids that can lead to further complications, including crabmen. And yes, ancient dwarven treasures may be found by curious and capable adventurers that don’t fall prey to the dangers of this place.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf has no interior artwork beyond cover and editorial page. The cartography is b/w and functional, but not spectacular. No player-friendly maps are included. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

This is the first offering by Matt Morrison I’ve reviewed, and it’s a surprisingly cool one – the combination of settlement and dungeon has been pulled off with surprising panache. In spite of the supplement’s brevity, Stonepick Crossing feels like an organic place, and I managed to picture the inhabitants rather well. With multiple sandboxy plotlines that may or may not converge, it’s a classic “insert PCs for adventure” type of module, one that manages to pull off its angle rather well indeed. The one issue of this one would be that the word-count gets slightly in the way of the module: Stonepick Crossing is a VERY cramped space, and unless you expand the settlement to encompass buildings beyond the dam, the settlement feels very cramped and claustrophobic, and lacks the infrastructure to support its populace and services. The trade-angle only can account for so much, and personally, I’d suggest GMs using this to add a few farmers beyond the dam, some additional places – you get the idea.

With a few more pages allowed, the author could have presented a rather great offering here – it certainly knocks the White River Run-adventures out of the water. Haha. Sorry, couldn’t resist. All in all, a fun supplement/module, and easily one of the more impressive installments in the series. My final verdict will be 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #22: Stonepick Crossing
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Advanced Adventures #35: The Desert Shrine of the Sightless Sisters
by A customer [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/15/2019 21:44:55

This adventure by Keith Sloan is intended for a party of 5-8th level characters. A well-rounded group is very much suggested, and for good reason, as the adventure is an exhilarating—and challenging—blend of traps to overcome, mysteries to unwrap, and combats against a varied range of foes to emerge victorious from. As with any good classic dungeon crawl, players should exercise caution when facing the dangers within the Shrine, but the challenges are fair. Deep in the desert wastes crumbles an ancient ziggurat, so worn away by time that it is now little more than an oddly-shaped mound in the wastes. Local superstition has long warned of some evil within this ancient edifice, without knowing why. In fact, the ruins are inhabited by a sisterhood of medusa, served—in what is a brilliant twist—by a cult of blind female acolytes (the ‘Sightless Sisters’ of the title). The exact reason for the PCs to explore the Desert Shrine is left to the GM, but the module does offer a number of possible hooks. The one that’s most evocative involves a desperate effort to rescue kidnapped girls before they can be initiated into the sisterhood by being blinded and rendered mute. The Shrine consists of three levels, each one with its own theme and linked together by well-reasoned internal consistency. The top level is the shrine of the Sightless Sisters, the domain of the deadly cultists. Next, we come to the lair of the ancient medusa clan. Finally, characters delve deep into an ancient crypt where all manner of horrors lurk within the darkness. Sloan aims to make each room interesting in some manner, and delivers in spades. In one room, characters come upon a petrified skull that, if placed upon a headless statue elsewhere in the Shrine, begins to speak—much of it gibberish, but occasionally offering oracular insight. Cool! Elsewhere, in true Gygaxian-style, we find a fountain filled with sand. No ordinary sand, if it touches flesh the victim becomes sand himself.
Beyond the adventure itself, The Desert Shrine of the Sightless Sisters concludes includes two new monsters—Greater Medusa and Medusa Mummy—seven new and interesting magic items. All are worthy additions and thematically appropriate. Conclusion Writing is clear and evocative, with a clear grasp of the rules, and editing is flawless. Maps are simple but effective, while the artwork ranges from stunning to good.
Keith Sloan’s “The Desert Shrine of the Sightless Sisters” is a masterpiece, pure and simple. It is one of the best dungeon crawls I’ve read, period, and occupies a position in the highest pinnacle of Expeditious Retreat Press’ Advanced Adventures line. Indeed, it may be the best of the bunch (which almost hurts me to say, having myself written several over the years). It’s dripping with atmosphere while stridently maintaining internal logic and consistency from beginning to end. “The Desert Shrine” manages to deliver the goods with panache; from the temple of the Sightless Sisters to the lair of the evocative lair of the medusa to the brutal crypts of the long-dead medusa in the ziggurat’s bowels, this module delivers with all of its components. The module is just brilliant. The flavor it oozes is fantastic, the challenges difficult but enjoyable. This is a must-own-five-stars-classic-in-the-making-gem, an adventure that will remain in the memory of your players for years to come!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #35: The Desert Shrine of the Sightless Sisters
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Advanced Adventures #21: The Obsidian Sands of Syncrates
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/22/2019 11:48:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested as one of a series of reviews by one of my patreon supporters.

All right, so this module is intended for 6 – 10 characters level 4 – 7, and the minimum number of players, at least without modifying a component of the module rather extensively, you do need at least 6 players (or at least PCs) to use this one. Rules-wise, this employs the OSRIC rules-set, and the module may be translated to other OSR games with relative ease. As always for the series, there are a few formatting convention deviations, and the module does not come with read-aloud text.

Now, while nominally designated as a tournament/convention module, this adventure does not feature a meat-grinder-like level of challenge; it works perfectly well as an insertion into an ongoing campaign. That being said, this is very much a well-rounded module in the challenges it poses, offering exploration, puzzles and combat – it does take player skill to beat. The adventure does come with scoring notes, a page of tournament character pregens in a table (with all notes) and a second version that has only the crucial pregen info on a page.

PCs surviving the module will be granted a special ring that acts as a safety net, healing them fully once. The module does come with 5 new creatures, two of which get their own artworks in b/w – these deserve special mentioning, as both artworks are amazing: The dust weird (snake of dust) actually looks awesome, and the obsidian sandman manages to look pretty badass. Beyond these, we have pretty boring guardian giants, a more interesting formaldehyde jelly and skysharks. Yep, you read that correctly!

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

… .. .

All right, only referees around? Great! The module begins in a most foreboding manner – the local guides, upon witnessing ash drifting like black snow from above, stab themselves with knives, repeatedly, and plunge from the ship the PCs are on. They seem to know something…and indeed, the PCs find their ship stranded in the eponymous black sands of an arena of the grandest kind. They have been plucked from their world and deposited in the massive arena of the god of entertainment Syncrates; starvation and thirst looms as well as the previously mentioned obsidian men mean that exploration of the arena is dangerous – there is another wrecked vessel, and said vessel seems to come from a strange place indeed.

More importantly, there are two ginormous statues – a colossal lion, and a similarly gargantuan statue of a somewhat pseudo-Greek warrior. The statue has a side-view map and top-down maps for the respective rooms, for the lion’s share of the module is about exploring the gigantic soldier statue – the inside of the gigantic statue is basically a science-fantasy dungeon that features unique and fun challenges, including pools of strange liquids inside of the statue’s stomach. The combat challenges inside feature crypt things, a riddle (which is represented as a 1/3rd page handout), and there are plenty of intriguing scenes – you see, there is, for example, a programmed illusion of a certain character fireballing the room after a couple of disputes, which can generate some nice paranoia in a tournament context. Duplicate zombies that can only be defeated by their equivalent, among other targets, may be found here. There are some clever uses of hazards and the like, but ultimately, to live through the adventure, the PCs will not only have to explore the statue – they will have to (probably) backtrack and collect quite an array of exotic components to finally access the statue’s control mechanisms.

You see, this ginormous statue comes with proper stats, and actually is a Power Rangers-like colossus that may be operated by the PCs – the statue has 7 stations, and ruby and marble thrones allow the PCs to operate the gigantic warrior – and make it fight against the gigantic lion statue monstrosity for the edification of the cosmic forces out there. The stations themselves allow casters to influence the options available for the colossus (rogues in the feet enhance AC, while monks provide a smaller bonus, but net a potent attack, for example), and yep, this is an impressive and awesome finale of suitably epic proportions! While, on a didactic level, the way in which the colossus’ operation works could be explained slightly clearer, this is me nitpicking.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal level and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the b/w-artworks are nice. The cartography is solid and functional, but no player-friendly version is included, which is a bit of a bummer. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Joseph Browning knows how to write neat modules. His second tournament module oozes science-fantasy/planar awesomeness, and features a truly epic finale. The blend of challenges between hazards, combat and stuff that engages your mental faculties is great and makes this a rather cool and well-rounded adventure. This is definitely one of the high-lights of the series so far, and a module I can wholeheartedly recommend. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #21: The Obsidian Sands of Syncrates
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Advanced Adventures #20: The Riddle of Anadi
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/02/2019 05:34:24

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, ½ a page SRD, leaving us with 10.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was sponsored by one of my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience.

All right, as always for the series, we use the OSRIC rules-set, including a couple of deviations from said system’s formatting conventions; conversion to other OSR-games is pretty simple. As for level-range, the module is intended for 5 - 7 characters of levels 6 – 10, and takes place as the PCs explore the complex that ostensibly holds the remains of the fabled magic-user Anadi. The complex spans two levels, and said levels are surprisingly non-linear, allowing for some player-choice. This is an old-school adventure, and difficulty-wise, one of the tougher beasts – it definitely helps to impart Anadi’s legend on the players, and novice players may well face a TPK in this one.

This is a review of a module, and as such, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. … .. . Only GMs around? Great!

The module begins in an interesting manner, with the PCs needing to pass by a wall of force, which they probably can’t just disintegrate away at this level. So, even before the dungeon properly begins, we have the requirement of smart problem-solving skills to even start (and yes, spellcasting capabilities are taken into account). This is a good thing. It establishes the type of module you should expect. The first room establishes a sense of foreboding – beyond a nauseating illusory effect, the PCs will be faced with a programmed pronouncement of doom for tomb-robbers etc. – this further establishes a sense of warning, as the PCs get to explore a highly magical complex. The first guardian creature also drives this home – a custom stonegolem with unique offensive capabilities. Potentially bypassed, we also find a mechanism that is kinda cool: There are statues with fingers that may be moved. Manipulating the fingers can have a variety of effects that range from the beneficial (the major benefit works only once) to the detrimental: You can end up being transformed into a small bird for a couple of turns for raising the middle finger of the statue; when you make the metalhead/bull’s horn gesture, you can end up being temporarily transformed into a hostile minotaur…but in both cases, the polymorph effects are NOT permanent. This is no save-or-die. It is old-school “tinker with stuff, see what happens” random stuff that balances risk and reward…and it is the only means to enter a subsection of the level.

You see, the introductory chamber, the one with the nauseating illusions, has a superbly camouflages secret door, and entering the complex has awoken a new creature, the so-called deep spirit, as well as the writhes. Writhes are basically staff-shaped erratically moving extra-dimensional entities that can choke you, while the spirit looks a bit like an elemental water spirit. However, said spirit can save-or-die you, as it draws water from those nearby to heal itself – thankfully only once per hour. This entity and its minions are basically the last guard that will attempt to slay foolhardy tomb-robbers once they exit the complex…and PCs that experiment with the finger-statues may thus manage to avoid a truly unpleasant encounter later on, when their resources are already stretched thin. Now, granted, the creature’s save or die is nasty, but it may potentially be avoided by smart PCs. Speaking of the fingers of the statue – there is also a buff that is based on enriched oxygen following the character as a kind of doping, but which, alas, makes the person more flammable while it persists. All in all, I like this – it’s random, but it balances its randomness pretty well, and avoids save or suck.

The complex also houses a false tomb of Anadi (sans clue that it’s not the proper one, save that it’s been too easy to reach), and another room, wherein a couple of massive urns await. Now, here, plundering urns can yield a bit of treasure…but it also may unleash another new creature, the squidhead – a human skull with tentacles (illustrated in b/w, fyi) that comes with bleed-inducing bite, carries a disease and also has limited quantities of debilitating (but not deadly) poison. Another urn represents my least favorite aspect of the module: Sure, the PCs have been warned. But opening one of the urns will suck a PC, headfirst, into a sphere of annihilation. There is no save to put the cork back onto the urn, no foreshadowing, nothing. Granted, the room is pretty obviously a lure for would-be tomb-robbers, but this no-save-die-scenario is still really, really dickish in an otherwise clever adventure.

Another component of the aforementioned statue aspect is a bit wonky – you see, there is a pond room, and the fronds inside animate at certain temperatures, attempting to drown those caught. One of the finger-configurations heats the room, activating this per se cool organic trap. I like this. BUT, and it’s a big BUT – there is no means for the PCs to discern the correlation there. It’s utterly random – in a bad way. It’s not about risks or rewards here, it’s just an arbitrary punishment for an arbitrary action, and there is no means to establish a link between these actions. So that would be the second of the finger-effects that isn’t exactly cool. The only reason I’m not harping on this more, is that it kinda makes sense – same goes for a one-way teleport into an oubliette that fakes PC-death….unless they have means to escape from this room, it may well be lethal. It also should be noted that the oubliette is subject to the global effects of level 2 of the dungeon – more on those later. An unnecessarily dickish move – you can’t teleport out of the room, but, you know, with magic, you could try to dig…Still, that is a possible and rather unfair chance at a TPK. It kinda makes sense, but it’s the second instance where the module benefits from having experienced veterans comfortable with old-school lethality.

Now, the second level of the complex, provided the PCs don’t run afoul of aforementioned kill-rooms and aren’t fooled by the false tomb, features e.g. green slime laden dead ends, and is subject to a magic-dampening effect that applies a flat 20% spell failure chance with 8 sample effects. There are spectral trolls, and the level does contain a hallway that features a series of potentially lethal, layered illusions – these are creative, dangerous, but also potentially things that experienced groups have a solid chance of navigating. The complex also includes a maddened man turned into a cockatrice, a fleshgolem wrought from rhino, crab and hyena…and if the PCs and players are up to their A-game, they will reach Anadi’s final resting place…or not, for the legendary illusionist’s point of vanishing is guarded by a trio of potent avenging angels.

The pdf contains 8 new spells. As a minor nitpick: Level is sometimes noted as “magic user X”, sometimes as “magic user level x.” Illusionists may learn the 4th level basilisk gaze spell, which is a save-or-suck petrify that may last up to 1d4 hours, but requires concentration to maintain. At 5th spell-level, magic-users may learn blood of flame, an ongoing damage spell that requires a touch. Line of sight is a 2nd level cleric spell that guides you towards a destination, but that doesn’t help with hazards. Armor reversal is an interesting cleric spell at 4th spell level, as it may target 1 – 3 beings, though the less you target, the harder the save to resist will be. The spell basically flips AC, making e.g. AC 1 turn into AC 9, AC into AC 2, etc. – interesting! If the PCs get to truly find Anadi’s last known whereabouts, they can find a spellbook that contains 4 unique spells made by the legendary mistress of magic: At spell level 3, Anadi’s guardian sphere generates a semi-sentient ball of electricity that can attack once per round a nearby target – it may be shorted out. At one spell level higher, Anadi’s chosen retreat provides a teleportation to a safe haven inhabited when casting the spell when a key-component of the spell, a kind of failsafe, is destroyed. Anadi’s peculiar ward, at level 7, is similar to guards and wards and represents a variant and tweak of that potent dweomer. Anadi’s last ward, finally, is a mighty level 8 spell, and represents a type of contingency on the power-levels of a limited wish. It should be noted that, while the pdf gets spell-formatting right a few times, it also misses a couple of italicizations.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal, good on a rules language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports a single nice new monster artwork. Cartography is solid and does its job, but no player-friendly iteration is provided. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

I really liked James C. Boney’s “The Riddle of Anadi” – it is thematically consistent and feels plausible, makes sense in many ways, and it’s a HARD, challenging dungeon to master. It’s a module worth winning, one that is creative in many of its details. At the same time, it does suffer from the two unfair instances noted above, as well as from the fact that it would have behooved the module to seed more hints and engage in a bit more foreshadowing for the PCs. That being said, in spite of these shortcomings, I found myself enjoying this adventure; it’s easily the strongest one by the author that I’ve covered so far, and while aforementioned structural snafus force me to somewhat penalize this, I will still settle for a final verdict of 4 stars. If your group enjoys hard, but winnable scenarios that can be a bit on the lethal side, then give this a shot!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #20: The Riddle of Anadi
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Malevolent & Benign II
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/18/2019 14:22:54

You can never have too many monster books in my mind. Even I use one or two per book and my players are surprised or go "what in the hell is that!?" then it is money well spent. Monsters have taught me so much over the years. Monsters lead me to Greek Mythology. Monsters helped me learn how to write code to create databases and then later helped land a DBA job while I was still in school. One day I'll update my old Access95 Monster Database, but that will have to be later.

In many ways I actually like M&B2 more than M&B1. This book is 110 pages with 150+ monsters. Again we have a color cover (which is fantastic by the way) and black & white interior. In fact all the art is a step up. If M&B 1 was akin to a MM3 or FF2 then this one is the next in line, but with no loss of quality. The monsters are new and quite deadly or at least the ones that are not deadly are interesting. I have not picked up the softcover yet, but the PDF is fantastic. 10 bucks for the pdf or 20 for the pdf + softcover book is a pretty good deal. Especially for a bunch of new monsters.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Malevolent & Benign II
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Malevolent and Benign
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/18/2019 14:11:50

You can never have too many monster books in my mind. Even I use one or two per book and my players are surprised or go "what in the hell is that!?" then it is money well spent. Monsters have taught me so much over the years. Monsters lead me to Greek Mythology. Monsters helped me learn how to write code to create databases and then later helped land a DBA job while I was still in school. One day I'll update my old Access95 Monster Database, but that will have to be later.

Malevolent and Benign has long been a staple on my game table. 128 pages with 150 monsters, all in OSRIC format. The monsters are all new (to me), with some converted from other OGC sources. The art is quite good and the feel of the book is something like a Monster Manual 3 or a Fiend Folio 2 really. It sits on my shelf right next to my monsters books, or in theory, it does. It is actually out on my game table more often than not. The softcover is very nice to have and the PDF is fully bookmarked.

The book also has a small section on new magic items associated with these monsters.

For $10 it is a good deal.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Malevolent and Benign
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Advanced Adventures #19: The Secret of the Callair Hills
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/15/2019 11:22:34

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was sponsored by one of my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience.

All right, as always for the series, we use the OSRIC rules-set, including a couple of deviations from said system’s formatting conventions; conversion to other OSR-games is pretty simple. As for level-range, the module is intended for 4-6 characters of levels 3 – 5 and it takes places in a borderlands-like frontier’s region, which is represented by a hex-crawl area. Unlike many hex-crawls, the hexes themselves aren’t numbered, instead providing terrain features etc. It should be noted that there are two overland maps – one for the general region (with a scale of 1 hex equaling 1 mile) and a second one, which takes a slightly more detailed look at the area, with a hex being equal to ½ a mile. The overland exploration does feature entries that focus on animals, humanoids and bandits, making for a subdued and quasi “realistic” take, which is something I generally enjoy. A further plus here would be that the hex maps are not boring – from rivers to hills etc., the region feels plausible and diverse enough to explore. The icons chosen to represent specific places also are easy enough to differentiate from another. The pdf does include two mini-dungeons as well, both of which cover 4 rooms arranged in a linear manner. The module, as always for the series, does not contain read-aloud text for the most part, though one of the adventure hooks does provide a bit of text for the GM.

All right, 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? Great! So, by frontier’s region, I meant that design and to consciously evoke the whole frontier-narrative; you see, the Callair Hills were once part of the domain of the Ynlar, a proud warrior race who kept the goblin population in check, mining and working on the silver that their native lands offered. When southern settlers came to know of these bountiful lands, the response was swift and predictable, and after a period of initial peace, greed triumphed and the Ynlar retreated to the prospectors…until their burial lands were to be settled, whereupon a bloody conflict saw them wiped out. A period of calm followed, due to political circumstances, and now, settlers had once again been sent off to Callair Hills to farm and mine. And this is where the PCs come in.

There are three hooks: Happening upon a farm where the dead still lie, getting a job offer, or being warned by settlers leaving. Callair Hills have been haunted, and folks are dying. Farms are destroyed. It’s up to the PCs to find out what happened. Okay, so this premise is per se interesting, and before you groan – it’s not a noble savage narrative that’s spun here. The map contains quite a few farms that may be destroyed, abandoned or inhabited, though no sample names or NPCs are provided. Close examination of the area will show that there are quite a few burial mounds, with skeletons inside – at least at day. At night, the skeletons (more powerful than usual) roam the area, though, oddly, this is not represented in the random encounters. An alternate table for of encounters for nighttime journeys would have been nice.

Further exploration of the area will feature the ruins of an old fort, the first of the 4-room mini-dungeons, where a scholar can potentially be used to fill the PCs in on the region’s history. While creepy, the fort has a couple of nice cultural tidbits – a means to preserve food, some cave locusts, etc. This is atmospheric, but ultimately a sidetrek and mechanically and story-wise, not relevant. You can skip the entirety of this complex and still “beat” the module.

The same does not hold true for the second mini-dungeon, the biggest burial mound in the center of the fields. Though “big” is relative – RAW, the map uses a scale of 2 feet per square, which makes the first room 10 feet wide and long. If you usually track PC positions, this can be a rather claustrophobic experience and makes running it a challenge.

This complex, once more, does a good job at establishing a culture for the Ynlan, and it contains two tomb guardian undead bodyguards resting, as well as the new creature, the barrow lord, a rather potent 7 HD undead. If the PCs plundered his tomb so far, they won’t have much choice but to attempt to destroy the undead – but if they have reigned in their avarice and act quickly, they may attempt to communicate with the undead, provided they have a means to converse with the undead. (Another way to handle this would be aforementioned scholar…) Turns out that the barrow lord swore a solemn oath to defend the ancestral lands from invaders…and clever PCs may succeed in convincing him that his undead legions have been killing harmless farmers that do not constitute invaders. Or, well, the PCs could go on an extermination crawl and clear all the mounds and destroy the barrow lord – after all, he and his undead legions have been killing innocent folks.

The pdf includes notes on further adventures in the region.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and the pdf features nice b/w-artworks that I’ve seen before. The cartography is b/w and does its job, but no player-friendly versions are provided, though the scale-decision for the final mound is puzzling and harder on the GM than it should be – most groups will need to redraw that one. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

This is the first module by Geoff Gander I’ve read, and it has potential: I like the descriptions, the theme, that it does not stoop to just providing an annoying noble savage narrative. I enjoy the subdued themes, and for a first module, this is pretty nice. However, the adventure really suffers from its brevity. Some encounters by night, some pressure, more expansive mini-dungeons, more details for the farms and overland exploration – this has the makings of a nice adventure, but its scope seems to be too much for the few pages it has to develop its ideas. I know one-page-dungeons and mini-dungeons that are meatier. This module, in short, is flimsier in content than its page-count would make you believe. You can finish this in under 4 hours, easily – even quicker if your players are very “get the job done”-style driven veterans. With 3 or 4 pages more, this could have been a really good adventure. As provided, its brevity neuters any impact it might have had, the atmospheric tidbits etc., and reduces it to a solid, if woefully short offering. My final verdict can thus not exceed 2.5 stars, rounded up only due to this being the author’s first module.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #19: The Secret of the Callair Hills
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Advanced Adventures #18: The Forsaken Sepulcher
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/04/2019 14:31:52

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review is part of a series of reviews requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.

Okay, nominally, this module is intended for 4 – 6 PCs level 10 – 15, though I certainly advise in favor of sticking to the higher end of the level-range here. The adventure, like all Advanced Adventures-modules, uses the OSRIC rules-set, and can be converted to other OSR-rules relatively easily. It should be noted, that, like the entirety of the series so far, it deviates somewhat from OSRIC’s formatting conventions, which is something that might irk you.

The module sports a couple of monsters, the first of which would be the arcanoplasm, a slimy thing that can mimic low-level arcane spells cast near it. Amalgam golems are basically stone golems that have a second mode – after 5 rounds of combat, the fiery spirit within ignites them and their constituent tar. Avmar are 12-foot tall black stone beasts with a horn, and its arms can slap targets back. Fungal renders are massive fungi that tear apart their prey with their tentacles, and they can throw themselves upon targets. The fungus has a regeneration, but does not specify an end – I assume that killing the critter ends this. Hephaestans are basically a 10 ft.tall humanoid clad in heat – a smith-race, somewhat akin to azers.

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. … .. . All right, just GMs around? Great! So, when Caleb and Trenton, two high-level adventurers, finally decided that it’s time for retirement, they concocted a get-rich-quick-scheme. Having made a living of plundering tombs of other folks, they decided that the rich and powerful would probably be rather interested in seeing their mortal remains properly secured. Thus, they ventured forth, using their considerable assets to find a barren planetoid and construct their elite sepulcher there; ostensibly impregnable. While they met their doom on an unspecified world, the sepulcher did house a total of 7 tombs when they vanished from history – though only two of them are depicted herein, with the rest up to the GM to fill in. So, if you do have a killer dungeon, it can be slotted into this rather easily.

I believe in giving credit where credit is due, and here, I really enjoy the baseline: The remoteness of the location and the legend should definitely be made clear to the players, if they hope to have a chance; it sets expectations for what this module offers in terms of lethality. On the other hand, the basic premise also falls short of what it could have been. If you expected some sort of unique hazards or planetary shenanigans from this premise, I’ll have to disappoint you. There are no unique global effects to be found that would be derived from the whole planetoid angle – 4 Dollar Dungeons’ “Panataxia”, one of my all-time favorites, did show how an analogue angle can be done much more satisfyingly. If you’re btw. a member of the old-school crowd that started sneering due to said module being for PFRPG – do at least check it out. I’m pretty positive that you’ll love it, regardless of system employed.

But I digress. This module thus contains two dungeons, which may be accessed via the per se barren hub-complex. The first module would be “The Mithraem[sic!] of Elissa”, as the map calls it. There a “u” missing there. The dungeon is thoroughly linear – while there is one instance where you can go left or right, the branches only diverge for this one room. There is another diverging branch, where one direction is basically a dead-end – other than that, the rooms pretty much follow a linear sequence. This is important, as, bingo, you guessed it – this complex is full of traps where the entrance snaps shut and wizard locks. Let’s take a look at the first trap, shall we? The floor contains grooves, and when the PCs enter the place, metal bulls with wheels materialize, and charge the PCs at 300 ft. per round, dematerialize in the back of the room, and then charge again. The room is RAW 30 ft. long, so not sure if this would imply having to make 10 checks per round. Oh, wait. Not checks. Attack rolls! You see, you must bull jump, and that is obviously done via attack rolls! Didn’t you know? The bulls also seem to be egalitarian and sentient, as, regardless of PC movement speed or timing, the PC will have to make two such attack rolls and make them to cross the room. Why? Because the module said so. That’s why. A PC hit must btw. make a Dex-check to remain standing. I assume It’s impossible to jump the bull while prone, but RAW, the book doesn’t state so.

There’s a second variant of this – a discus room that follows the same paradigm, save that, on a 20, you get decapitated. Speaking of vorpal…the gargantuan minotaurs later have, of course, vorpal axes. Yeah, you totally want your players to have two of these, right?

The room after the bull-room contains a gate that will suddenly manifest, and attempt to suck PCs into the gate. -2 penalty’d Strength check for every 5 ft. moved; on a failure, you also get 5 ft. closer to the gate. Touching it basically ends the module for you, as you are stranded in Hades. The gate is one-way. By the way: The room with the gate? It has a 20 ft.-broad ring you’ll need to navigate around the gate – at the top most, 4 saves are your margin of error there, and the pull extends 50 ft. and does not turn off. Having fun yet?

Have you realized the quasi-Greek notion? Well, do you expect hints from the vapors in the oracular room beyond? Well, tough luck! You’re actively penalized! On a save vs. spell, you either become confused, or die. And the oracle? Ghost. With a riddle. The riddle is okay, but failing to answer it will chain lightning you. Oh, and no save. Why? Because the author said so. The author also seems to fail to grasp how some basic spells work. The priestess has turned vampire, fyi. Her resurrection rite is really cool (and gory), but the rules suck: The floor’s lick with gore, so PC movement is halved, and each PC has a 50% chance falling. Yep, the thief is probably really pissed by having their abilities not taken into account by now.

The second dungeon would be the “Crypt of the Slime Mage”, which is more deadly than the previous one. It’s also divorced from real world lore, but considering how bland the Mithraeum was, I’m not too unhappy about this. The dungeon is slightly less linear, which is a nice plus – though 6 of the rooms will have to be crossed. As has by now become standard for the author, it’s the “My way or you die”-school of design; the walls are impassable, rooms slam shut and wizard lock, and you basically guess what’s meant or suffer the consequences. Know what makes high-level play cool? The stuff you can do. That you can bypass stuff, be creative. This module once more strips the PCs of their capabilities, because it’d be harder to design for.

There is an instance, where pressing 4 gemstone buttons out of sequence will power word:Kill the PCs. While not required to proceed, this is a ridiculous dick move. Speaking of which: What about a room that slams shut and wizard locks, leaving 3 rounds to escape (which is probably where the PCs find out the hard way that all their cool magic doesn’t work) before being crushed, no save. That’s literally GM-fiat TPK. The PCs can also fall into a trench of mold, and, you guessed it…save or die for a change of pace! At a -3 penalty, though. We don’t want to spoil those players, right? There is also a spear-based trap that can cripple or instantly kill the PCs hit, which is ridiculous: 3 times 1d8 HP damage and that dwarf? Toast. It may be kinda realistic, but it doesn’t fit into the concept of how OSRIC works. It highlights the discrepancy between interpretations of HP and abstraction of wounds discussion. It reads like it has been written for a completely different game. There is also a conceptually cool trap – a room that rotates, with spikes inside. Here’s the thing: Whether the PCs can exit, you roll a d10. There is a 5-in-10 chance that the exit will be available for a PC. This is abstract, and it does not matter if two PCs are adjacent or not. The exit can be in range for a PC, but out of range for his faster buddy. This is just dumb and obviously had no contact with either play at the table or an even halfway interested rules-editor or developer.

Also, what about a balor in a room that surprises 5-in-6. Why? Because. There is a non-skippable room with different traps – it is not clear which is correct, and all effects for opening them are unpleasant. In the end, the slime-lich looms. Treasure guarded by a symbol of death, for a final extended middle finger.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level, atrocious regarding rules-integrity. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf has a couple of solid b/w-artworks. The cartography is basic and does its job, but we get no player-friendly maps. The pdf comes with basic bookmarks for chapter headers, but not for rooms or dungeons.

Alphonso Warden’s “Forsaken Sepulcher” is not a return to what made “Lost Pyramid of Imhotep” worth the effort to fix for some groups. It is, design-wise, atrocious and checks off each and every instance of bad design, from arbitrary challenge-resolution mechanics, to a ton of save-(or no save)-or-die instances that are neither telegraphed, nor earned, up to the mostly bland and cookie-cutter complexes, the tombs never become interesting or rewarding to explore. I don’t object to save or die, but this adventure uses it to create an arbitrary, GM-fiat-based difficulty that violates a ton of tenets of the games we play.

The complexes herein? They are a chore. Granted, this is not as bad as his worst offerings, but it also is a long, long way from being worth the asking price or effort to play and prepare. Heck, I was in equal parts bored and infuriated while reading this module. That’s a hard thing to achieve.

This is a bad adventure, and at this point, I’m just glad that I can finish writing this review and delete this adventure from my hard drive. This module really shows that the author obviously a) either doesn’t play the game anymore or b) never has. And if he has played the game, his GM obviously was HORRENDOUS. This is not “convention-game”-challenging; it’s just a grind that I can’t even recommend to the most die-hard of punishment-gluttons among players. My final verdict will clock in at 1.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #18: The Forsaken Sepulcher
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