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Advanced Adventures #38: White Dragon Run II
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/15/2018 11:32:42

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page of SRD, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The first 7.5 pages of this supplement depict the region of the Skathernes and the village of White Dragon Run – and yes, this section is identical to what we got back in the first Advanced Adventures-booklet, leaving us with 9.5 pages of new material. The suggested levels have been raised to 2 – 5 for this return to the Skathernes to account for the challenges presented by the new environments. Now, as always for the series, we have OSRIC as the default old-school rule-set, and as always for the series, we deviate from the conventions and have magic weapons not italicized, but bolded, and similarly, spells are not italicized either, but bolded – most of the time. I did notice instances where they’re italicized instead. A smart and well-rounded group is definitely recommended, and PCs and players should know when to run. The pdf does not offer read-aloud text for its environments.

If you hoped that this would be a true sequel, and adventure that would build on the events and areas featured in the first White Dragon Run, well, then I’ll have to disappoint you.

In case you haven’t read my review of White Dragon Run, here is the breakdown of the wilderness region and how it operates. If you have read my review of White Dragon Run #1, skip ahead.

----------Begin of Hexcrawl/wilderness-discussion-----------

“White Dragon Run” is a departure from what we’ve seen so far in the series, in that it is essentially a hex-crawl wilderness sandbox. In case you don’t know what that is – the adventurers basically travel through the wilderness, encountering beasts and finding unique areas, dungeons, etc. – it’s basically a form of free exploration through a region, somewhat akin to an open-world game. The respective regions surrounding the village of White Dragon Run show that it’s a borderlands type of village, in that it’s pretty much the last stop before the wilds. In the Southwest, Lathergrave (or Lathargrave – depending on whether you believe text or map) Forest can be food; North of the village would be the Mimir Woods, East to South-West of it the Auranas Woods. Between these, the rivers have cut into plains, and beyond the latter forest, there would be the hills known as “The Skaths” that grant the region its name: The Skathernes. In the West, beyond these hills, the majestic Mountains of Xur arise.

Auranas and Mimir Woods share a table of random encounters, with a mix of humanoids and minor fey taking up the majority of the entries, with a few zombies and the obligatory wolves sprinkled in. These forests are dangerous indeed, and stand in sharp contrast to the significantly less lethal La/ethergrave Forest, where the most outré encounter would be giant blowflies. Ew! The first two forests also get their own table of random encounters for the night time, where you won’t encounter fey, but where some of the more dangerous predators and humanoids roam in larger numbers.

That is not to say that the vicinity of the eponymous river that provided the name for the village is safe – quite the contrary! Crocodiles, giant poisonous frogs and large packs of wolves render the area beyond 1 mile of the village very dangerous…but the Skaths are actually even tougher: Here, pretty significant raiding parties can be found, and at night (the Skaths also get separate daytime and nighttime tables), the undead roam in dangerous quantities. The wilderness section also comes with a mini-generator of sorts that lets you sprinkle in dead bodies, random camps and ruins throughout the landscape. It should be noted that PCs should think twice before exploring ruins – they are either occupied or haunted 50% of the time, and both translate to some seriously tough challenges. 1d3 wights or a poltergeist can and will TPK a group of careless adventurers.

While these tables may not look like much, they do play better than they read and facilitate emergent storytelling – encountering 2-16 wolves at night can result in a TPK if the PCs aren’t smart and you roll up a lot of wolves; similarly, stumbling into multiple quicklings in the Mimir Woods can be a rather humbling experience…and when 2nd level adventurers encounter a band of 8 worgs in the Skaths, they’d better have a plan B ready…or replacement characters. So yes, these encounter-tables paint a picture of a harsh environment, and do so rather well.

The village of White Dragon Run itself is fully mapped (no player-friendly, unlabeled map included), and comes with a total of 20 rumors. The village is defended by a garrison (and you get a list of HP so you can track who falls) that keeps the dangers of the wilderness at bay, led by Sir Kallan, who is also the de facto leader of the Triune that governs the village: In his absence, the Triune can’t meet. The other members would be Landan, a paladin, and Janra, the village’s cleric – these two do have appointed replacements, should they not be able to attend a Triune meeting. Cool, btw.: Janra has the Wide Book of Genth, a valuable tome, and the back of the module does contain an appendix with some fully-presented excerpts from it! Nice one! The village also has its resident magician, who is commonly known as “Smoke”, and the village does have its jeweler, a retired soldier, a shop – you get the idea. Nice here: percentile chances for having things in stock are provided.

I also really enjoyed that every single building in town actually gets notes for how it’s constructed, the condition it’s in, the number of occupants and occupations of the folks that live there. It may be a small thing, but it can really aid the GM to bring the village to life.

One building is fully mapped, and that, no surprises there, would be the one that is most crucial for most adventurers: The tavern. The “Twelve Toes Inn and Tavern” (so named because the proprietor indeed has twelve toes!) is the pulsing heart of sorts of the settlement, and it does note the chances of meeting a given NPC with a percentile value for daytime and nighttime as well.

As a whole, while White Dragon Run certainly may not be the most extraordinary village out there, it manages to feel plausible, with the percentile charts, random encounter tables for the wilderness and details provided rendering this part of the supplement a success. It’s not a genre-changer or the like, but it is a well-presented execution of a classic environment.

----------End of Hexcrawl/wilderness-discussion-----------

All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS – from here on out, I will proceed to discuss the new set-piece environments found within this supplement. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, this adventure states that it has 4 new encounter-areas. To quote the description:

“White Dragon Run II contains four new locations in the Skathernes: The Sane Hermit, The Rainbow In The Dark, the rare and unusual Ambulatory Tower, and the deadly Temple of the Snake God.”

That is simply incorrect. The first one is a non-hostile ex-adventurer half-elf druid. You can meet him. That’s it. That’s not a full locale or encounter-area, that’s an NPC.

Yes, this really pissed me off.

That being said, this NPC can tie in with the first of the new locales, the so-called “Ambulatory Tower.” This tower sports a really cool idea: Basically, it’s part of a planes-spanning structure that is kinda-alive; a type of feeding tube that is a heat sink of sorts for the quasi-alive structure – the presence of undead in the area is thus explained rather well, and an influx of zombies can make for a neat hook to get the PCs involved. The creatures encountered within are consequently not quite right, representing an immune response of sorts of the entity: First, they will be grotesque and less potent, but with each subsequent sojourn into the tower, its guardians will improve, losing penalties and gaining bonuses. A wandering monster table is provided, and each room has a leitmotif of sorts that the GM can use as guidance for potentially changed challenges and the like. This makes the tower an interesting place to explore – but I wished that this was also represented by the dungeon itself: Prohibitively short, it only spans 8 rooms and is super-linear. There is but one way, and while terrain-use and themes are strong, the same can’t necessarily be said for the overall structure. The facsimile of the dragon as a final boss here is certainly deadly. On the plus-side, the “heart” of this tower may indeed be destroyed by clever PCs, even without the high-level options it’d usually take, though chances are good that they may need to stock up…and return. Which, of course, means facing new and tougher foes! Even if the tower is vanquished, escape is interesting: The players have to, with closed eyes, describe their way out! Even though it is this linear, I found myself enjoying this small dungeon much more than I expected to. It’s fun, challenging and interesting.

The second new mini-dungeon presented within would be the “Rainbow in the Dark”, a cavern with 4 keyed locations that is currently inhabited by a tribe of rather potent bugbears (and a currently hibernating cave-fisher, for an extra chaos infusion) – inside, there is a magical quartz that, once per day, is hit by a beam of light, creating magical light that can grant permanent boons! Pretty cool! As an aside, I do think that this amazing premise could have carried more, but I digress.

The third mini-dungeon is the longest one: 17 keyed locations can be found, which once more are thoroughly linear. Utterly baffling: The random encounter chart for the Mountains of Xur is included here, in the back, instead of where it belongs, in the front, next to the others. As an aside – the table is, even for the White Dragon Run-wilderness, a deadly challenge, and should be handled with care. I’d suggest level 5, and even then, things can go haywire pretty badly. Then again, at this point, the PCs have had some experience with deadly wilderness encounters. This third mini-dungeon is called “Temple of the Snake God” and features two “new” monsters – serpent-people called “Serpentians” (distinguished as lowblood, high blood and chosen) and shadow weirds, a snake like life-form from the plane of shadow that attempts to paralyze targets and rag them into shadow pools. The dungeon has two easy riddles I’ve seen before, a fountain that changes color (Why? Because, I guess.), snakes, and new magic item-wise, there is a spell-in-a-can ring (boring) and arrows that cause additional damage via poison and that turn into harmless snakes upon being fired. You may well call me hipster, but I’ve seen the snake-men angle done so many times, it’s hard to impress me with it – and I’ve seen it done better rather often. In the absence of Sword & Sorcery themes around White Dragon Run, you may appreciate it if you’re more of a genre-fan than I am (And I love me some Sword & Sorcery…), but personally, I did not feel like it fit into the area particularly well. It feels like a foreign object to me, and not in a good way. It’s a challenging dungeon, I’ll give it that much, but it’s less interesting and atmospheric than the other mini-dungeons herein or the Gray Temple from module #1.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the classic two-column b/w-standard of the series, and the b/w-artworks are nice. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography is solid and b/w, but no player-friendly versions are provided.

James C. Boney, Joseph Browning and Joseph A. Mohr returning to White Dragon Run could have been so much more. This could have expanded and further developed the themes in the first module, it could have been a true sequel. Instead, it feels like a parallel version. The Mountains of Xur random encounters being in the entry for a mini-dungeon did annoy me to an extent; similarly, I think the module’s advertisement is false, as there are only 3 true encounter-areas/complexes – adding a single NPC camping in the wilds does not for a new location make. Encountering a pretty generic retired-adventurer-druid in his camp is not a “location”, particularly if there is no map, no adventuring, no interaction points to be had. It’s basically a random encounter. Heck, the module suggests using him as such.

That being said, 2 of the three new locales are really interesting, cool and sport potent challenges and unique visuals. I wish I could say the same about the third, which feels like it just jams a pretty unremarkable execution of a classic Sword & Sorcery trope I usually enjoy into a region, where it doesn’t necessarily fit. I sincerely wished that the first two locations had received the page-count spent on this one instead. I should also note that the absence of an easier dungeon, with all 3 of the new ones being tougher, de facto renders this suitable for level 4 – 5 characters, for the most part. The only content suitable for lower level characters would be running into critters in the wild. Not sure if that qualifies for you or not.

How to rate this, then? Honestly, if you already have White Dragon Run, you may want to think twice before getting this. The two cool mini-dungeons that I really enjoyed span a grand total of 4 pages plus one paragraph; the rest is reused content from the first White Dragon Run, and the underwhelming final mini-dungeon. Honestly, I’m kinda sad for the 2 cool locations – had they been in #1, or had the Gray Temple been featured herein, we’d be looking at a much stronger offering all-around. As written, I was thoroughly underwhelmed by this one – I paid full price for this, and beyond the advertisement being patently false, I also consider the suggested level range problematic. Dear authors of the ambulatory tower and the rainbow in the dark – I liked what you brought to the table! Consider your parts of this module to be good and worthwhile.

That being said, if you already have White Dragon Run #1, you’ll probably want to skip this. If you don’t own #1, then you may want to get it – provided you have some ideas/modules that can bring the PCs to levels 4 – 5, as White Dragon Run II has nothing but reprinted wilderness encounters to offer for levels 2 – 3.

How should I rate this? Well, ultimately, I’d usually rate this akin to its predecessor: The inspired locations, put together, almost reach the same keyed encounter count as the rather lackluster final one, offsetting that one somewhat. However, the challenges posed are more on the higher level range and offer less for lower level PCs than in the first module, so I’d detract half a star for a 3-star rating.

That’s what I’d usually do. But this module falsely advertised that it offered 4 new locations. I can stomach almost half of the module being a reprint from #1, no problem. I really HATE it when a supplement’s advertisement and description blatantly lies to the customer. Hence, this loses another star for a final verdict of 2 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #38: White Dragon Run II
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Advanced Adventures #13: White Dragon Run
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/14/2018 10:23:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Advanced Adventure-installment 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 was requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.

Now, as always for the series, we have OSRIC as the default old-school rule-set, and as always for the series, we deviate from the conventions and have magic weapons not italicized, but bolded, and similarly, spells are not italicized either, but bolded. The adventure is intended for level 2 – 4 characters, and a smart and well-rounded group is definitely recommended. The pdf does not offer read-aloud text for its environments.

That being said, “White Dragon Run” is a departure from what we’ve seen so far in the series, in that it is essentially a hex-crawl wilderness sandbox. In case you don’t know what that is – the adventurers basically travel through the wilderness, encountering beasts and finding unique areas, dungeons, etc. – it’s basically a form of free exploration through a region, somewhat akin to an open-world game. The respective regions surrounding the village of White Dragon Run show that it’s a borderlands type of village, in that it’s pretty much the last stop before the wilds. In the Southwest, Lathergrave (or Lathargrave – depending on whether you believe text or map) Forest can be food; North of the village would be the Mimir Woods, East to South-West of it the Auranas Woods. Between these, the rivers have cut into plains, and beyond the latter forest, there would be the hills known as “The Skaths” that grant the region its name: The Skathernes. In the West, beyond these hills, the majestic Mountains of Xur arise.

Auranas and Mimir Woods share a table of random encounters, with a mix of humanoids and minor fey taking up the majority of the entries, with a few zombies and the obligatory wolves sprinkled in. These forests are dangerous indeed, and stand in sharp contrast to the significantly less lethal La/ethergrave Forest, where the most outré encounter would be giant blowflies. Ew! The first two forests also get their own table of random encounters for the night time, where you won’t encounter fey, but where some of the more dangerous predators and humanoids roam in larger numbers.

That is not to say that the vicinity of the eponymous river that provided the name for the village is safe – quite the contrary! Crocodiles, giant poisonous frogs and large packs of wolves render the area beyond 1 mile of the village very dangerous…but the Skaths are actually even tougher: Here, pretty significant raiding parties can be found, and at night (the Skaths also get separate daytime and nighttime tables), the undead roam in dangerous quantities. The wilderness section also comes with a mini-generator of sorts that lets you sprinkle in dead bodies, random camps and ruins throughout the landscape. No random encounters table is provided for the Mountains of Xur, and it should be noted that PCs should think twice before exploring ruins – they are either occupied or haunted 50% of the time, and both translate to some seriously tough challenges. 1d3 wights or a poltergeist can and will TPK a group of careless adventurers.

While these tables may not look like much, they do play better than they read and facilitate emergent storytelling – encountering 2-16 wolves at night can result in a TPK if the PCs aren’t smart and you roll up a lot of wolves; similarly, stumbling into multiple quicklings in the Mimir Woods can be a rather humbling experience…and when 2nd level adventurers encounter a band of 8 worgs in the Skaths, they’d better have a plan B ready…or replacement characters. So yes, these encounter-tables paint a picture of a harsh environment, and do so rather well.

The village of White Dragon Run itself is fully mapped (no player-friendly, unlabeled map included), and comes with a total of 20 rumors. The village is defended by a garrison (and you get a list of HP so you can track who falls) that keeps the dangers of the wilderness at bay, led by Sir Kallan, who is also the de facto leader of the Triune that governs the village: In his absence, the Triune can’t meet. The other members would be Landan, a paladin, and Janra, the village’s cleric – these two do have appointed replacements, should they not be able to attend a Triune meeting. Cool, btw.: Janra has the Wide Book of Genth, a valuable tome, and the back of the module does contain an appendix with some fully-presented excerpts from it! Nice one! The village also has its resident magician, who is commonly known as “Smoke”, and the village does have its jeweler, a retired soldier, a shop – you get the idea. Nice here: percentile chances for having things in stock are provided.

I also really enjoyed that every single building in town actually gets notes for how it’s constructed, the condition it’s in, the number of occupants and occupations of the folks that live there. It may be a small thing, but it can really aid the GM to bring the village to life.

One building is fully mapped, and that, no surprises there, would be the one that is most crucial for most adventurers: The tavern. The “Twelve Toes Inn and Tavern” (so named because the proprietor indeed has twelve toes!) is the pulsing heart of sorts of the settlement, and it does note the chances of meeting a given NPC with a percentile value for daytime and nighttime as well.

As a whole, while White Dragon Run certainly may not be the most extraordinary village out there, it manages to feel plausible, with the percentile charts, random encounter tables for the wilderness and details provided rendering this part of the supplement a success. It’s not a genre-changer or the like, but it is a well-presented execution of a classic environment.

The last 5.5 pages of the module, then, do present two more detailed locations – small dungeons, if you will.

In order to discuss these, I need to go into SPOILER-territory. Potential players should hjump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! The first of these would be the “Gray Temple”, and abandoned edifice to the evil god Gaevud, a ruin of a granite structure somewhere in the Skaths. Today, vermin nest there, and this is represented by the random encounter table provided, which features giant lizards, giant rats, huge spiders and giant ticks, as well as a couple of humanoids. Indeed, the outer chapel, pretty much the first encounter-area of the temple, already has the potential to have the PCs surprised by no less than 8 giant spiders. If you haven’t learned to be careful via the dangerous wilds, this will drive it home. All in all, this is basically an exploration of an old ruin – though there are plenty of mundane pieces of equipment to still be scavenged herein – which is great for the notoriously-broke low-level adventurer…oh, and particularly perceptive PCs may well find a hidden room that hasn’t yet been looted and found…though, alas, the undead occupants may well object to it being looted… I liked the sense of dilapidation that this complex sported – it is something we don’t get to see that often. At the same time, I do feel that this would have benefited a bit more from some details regarding the long-vanished religion; more details for the iconography etc. to be spliced into the ever-present ruin….but that may have been intentional here.

The second complex presented would be The Forgotten Outpost – an underground complex that once served as a waystation for the Count’s men. A decade ago, it was overrun and sacked by humanoids, and today, it acts as a haven for a particularly vicious band of brigands. Clearing them from the outpost to potentially make it usable once more could really help the PCs getting Sir Kallan’s favor. Bandit HP are provided in a way that makes it easy to check them off, and the complex itself is a straight-forward extermination mission, unburdened by much in the way of hazards or the like…for the first 12 rooms, that is. A slight criticism would be that the bandits remain comparably pale – they don’t really have a proper response strategy or the like – compared to Advanced Adventures: The Curse of the Witch Head”, that aspect is weaker than I hoped it’d be. The interesting aspect of this complex is one that the PCs can potentially miss – there are quite a few rooms that haven’t been found by bandits, hidden by secret doors. Here, a forgotten, undead menace looms, and a room that is haunted can make for a rather creepy experience. I did like this (and the option to find a significant weapon cache) here, but as a whole, the complex still is basically something most GMs could improvise.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-level, with the by now almost traditional formatting deviations. Layout adheres to the old-school, two-column b/w-standards of the series that evoke a proper, old-school flair. The artworks within are b/w and rather nice indeed, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography is solid and b/w, but no player-friendly versions are provided.

James C. Boney’s “White Dragon Run” is a challenging little hexcrawl that can provide a surprising amount of game sessions. Courtesy of the danger of the wilderness, there are quite a lot of stories that will simply happen organically. And chances aren’t bad, particularly if you tackle this at 2nd level, that one or more PCs…or groups of PCs, will find their grisly ends in the Skathernes. The challenge is a central part of the appeal here, and indeed, the village is also well-presented. While I would have enjoyed a bit more conflict-potential to be baked into the settlement, as presented it makes for a point of light, for a fragile haven, and fills its role in that regard nicely. The hex-crawling section of this module, in short, should be considered to be a success, particularly for those among us that enjoy a down to earth and somewhat gritty aesthetic. I like that not everything is cluttered with magical things here – it grounds the experience and makes encountering the fantastic more remarkable.

That being said, the two mini-dungeons provided in the back of the book fall a bit short of what I have seen the author produce so far. The first dungeon does succeed at its goal, and while it’s not the most remarkable of places, it turned out to be enjoyable. In direct comparison, the second mini-dungeon feels like the less inspired, low level lite-version of his really enjoyable and cool “Curse of the Witch Head.” With a defense strategy for the adversaries, and perhaps a slightly more meaningful impact for finding the less obvious parts of it, this could have been a much more compelling expedition. So yeah, in direct comparison, the two brief dungeons did not exactly blow me away.

How to rate this, then? See, here things get a bit tricky. While I did enjoy the settlement and rather deadly wilderness, the two mini-dungeons included are simply less exciting. And when compared to other adventures that have received 4 stars from yours truly, this simply isn’t wholly there – it needed that little bit, that extra oomph in the dungeons, perhaps a couple of mini-quests in village and wilderness, to truly shine. As such, my final verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform – a solid release on the positive side of things.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #13: White Dragon Run
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Advanced Adventures #12: The Barrow Mound of Gravemoor
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/18/2018 12:09:51

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front and back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1/2 a page advertisement, leaving us with 9.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

My reviews of this series were requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.

This adventure, like all in the series, uses the OSRIC rule-set, but can easily be converted to other old-school rules. It should be a given by now that there are a few formatting peculiarities that are still consistent in their application, so boil down to a matter of aesthetics. The cartography is functional, as always, but we don’t get a player-friendly version. This adventure is intended for level 5 – 7 characters and a well-rounded party is very much recommended. As far as supplemental material is concerned, we have an artifact that plays a part in the story (would have been nice to get a means of destruction, but that may just be me) and an evil magical weapon, a mace that evil clerics will adore. The pdf also includes a new monster with its own illustration, the barrow golem, a being that can encapsulate PCs…pretty nasty one!

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

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! ähem “The Clans are marching ‘gainst the law/bagpipers play the tunes of war/death or glory I will find/rebellion on my mind!” Richard Dirkloch has rallied the clans of a moor-like Highland region to march against the good King Oldavin, whose men have burned Dirkloch’s beloved for the witch she admittedly were; the battle was fierce, but in the end, the good King did triumph…but Richard Dirkloch is not yet vanquished and found. Having retreated to his barrow fortress, built atop the ruins of castle Grimspire, it’ll be up to the PCs to bring Dirkloch in and squash his plans for sedition, which actually turn out to be darker than anticipated!

The PCs begin their adventure on the field of battle, with several means of getting them there provided. The gravemoor as a region comes with an appropriately creepy array of different possible random encounters that make sense and don’t devolve into the too fantastic…and when they reach the Gravemoor barrow mound pool, they’re in for a surprise: Richard Dirkloch assaults them as a wight with unique properties – this establishes the antagonist early and allows the GM to roleplay the dichotomy between sadist and romantic lord. Sooner or later, he’ll retreat to the ice-cold and murky depths of the pool, leaving the PCs to explore the grave moor barrow mound, which is a combination of maze and regular dungeon – and it is littered with secret doors.

The winding tunnels and non-linear-structure of the barrow hill make for a surprisingly, considering the brevity, nonlinear experience here. Secret doors galore conspire with the dungeon’s global effects to generate a sense of claustrophobia I did not expect. Even better, this is also enforced by global rules applied to the dungeon, penalizing attacks with anything but small weapons, and the curved structure means that ranged weapons are less effective as well – an excellent example on how a dungeon’s design and map can help emphasize the theme and generate atmosphere. Two thumbs up!

This intelligent notion also extends to the keyed encounters in this massive mound – while there are only 7, these do have in common that they provide twists on classics and feature evocative adversaries. Strategies for Ach na Creig the gleistig, half woman, half goat, are provided, and manage to make her a credible threat. This all-killer, no-filler attention also extends to the terrain features like magical pools, a lobratory – there is player-agenda here, and e.g. cleaning a saint’s statue may net a potent boon. Hidden below the barrow level, there is the second level of the dungeon. Smaller and more compact, it represents a respite from the horrors of the claustrophobic barrow and doubles as the base of Dirkloch, where his undead steed and personal quarters await – and where he will orchestrate his masterplan, unless stopped: Courtesy of the midnight opal, he seeks to animate the untold fallen soldiers and lead an undead army against the king – preferably with his bride returned to his side…and only the PCs stand between him and the fulfillment of his ambition…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column, classic old-school style, right down to the font. The artworks are b/w and solid, and the cartography is functional, but we do not get player maps. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Andrew Hind delivers big time here. The plot and dungeon scenario are both classics, and executing these well, in a matter that does not feel stale or bland, is an achievement indeed. The concise writing not only produces a very atmospheric dungeon, it also manages to make the adversary plausible, the struggle against him more personal and thus, engrossing. This is, at least for me, the best of the early Advanced Adventures – it manages to evoke more atmosphere than many modules of thrice that size, leaving me just with the lack of player-friendly maps as a serious criticism. This time, though, I do feel that mapping is such a crucial part of the experience, even in VTT-scenarios, that the module doesn’t suffer from their omission. While this may be brief, it is better than many longer adventures - quality over quantity.

As such, this receives a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #12: The Barrow Mound of Gravemoor
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Advanced Adventures #11: The Conqueror Worm
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/11/2018 05:00:43

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.

As always for this series, the default rules-system is OSRIC, and the presentation is perfectly in line with the nostalgic 1e style, down to the font. This is an old-school adventure, and as such, you should not expect much read-aloud text beyond the introduction. The cartography included within is functional, but does not include player-friendly maps. Cartography is serviceable. This module is, nominally, intended for 60 levels of PCs, so for PCs level 10 – 14. Officially. Unfortunately, much like the author’s last offering, this very much showcases that this module has not been playtested. This is an adventure more suitable for characters nearing or already at the apex of their power, and even then it is a meat-grinder with a boss that will make some of the deities as statted up in the classics weep.

Thematically, this goes as similar route as “The Lost pyramid of Imhotep”, and while I personally could derive some joy from said super-deadly meat-grinder of a module, this one does lack the angle of precise research acting as a contextualization.

But to discuss this further, I need to go into SPOILER territory. Players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great, so the White Worm is basically spreading winter from its icy fortress, the PCs should slay it, and on the way there, there’s a tomb where they can find a sword that will help with this endeavor. The premise is simple and offers some interesting angles; for example, the tomb that contains the legendary sword is the tomb/testing ground of one Harald Hardada[sic!], echoing obviously King Harald III of Norway, Harald Hardrada. In the iteration presented within, said mythical being was actually a frost giant, with all that entails. Indeed, while PAINFULLY linear, I can suspend my agenda for the purpose of the testing ground angle that the cairn of said being, and first, completely optional, dungeon operates under.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The trek towards the fortress of the white worm is handled with a mini-hexcrawl, and the longer the PCs take, the more spellcasting prowess their already super-potent enemy will have accumulated. The random encounters provided for the short trip are solid, if not particularly remarkable – yetis, winterwolves, frost giants, white dragons. Pretty much classic ice monsters. Without magic aid, the frigid cold will cause HP loss, which is a nice angle. The PCs will have to fight their way through a gated pass, and hopefully, they will check out the optional dungeon.

Why? Because Harald Hardada[sic!]'s dungeon is one where the author plays to his strengths: There is a logic to the challenges, deadly though they may be, and making a mythic hero a literal giant is a creative tweak that allows for some interesting changes to the logic of riddles and the like. When these work, then they do so with the same enjoyable effects as in e.g. “The Lost Pyramid of Imhotep”; when they don’t, however, then they come off as deliberate and nasty screwjobs. This is not only a super-linear dungeon in the way in which the rooms are aligned, it is also super-linear regarding solutions. Open the false door (no clues available) and you’ll be prismatic spray’d. In one room, failure to have a fire-based spell ready prevents getting further. All of these traps and the like are per se creative and interesting, if a bit sadistic. However, here’s the issue: There is pretty much no way for even mythologically-versed players to navigate these. Player skill does not really matter that much, and since the angle combines the myth of Harald (which does not help navigating the dungeon, fyi), Norse lore and frost giants, players are reduced to educated guesses in quite a few of these instances. I never thought I’d write this, but “The Lost Pyramid of Imhotep” feels positively fair in comparison.

And then there would be the main dungeon, a citadel carved into an iceberg, where the white worm lairs. Amazing set-up, right? Well, alas, it kinda lacks a distinct identity. Fire and ice, one could say, due to e.g. hell hounds, red dragons and the ice monsters you’d anticipate, but that’s about it. There are demons. The obligatory and tired mirror of life-trapping. The room where no less than 6 magic users wait to unload on the group. The traps and general sense of identity here feel distinctly magical, but not in the most interesting sense, and, as mentioned before, the final boss is basically on a deity’s level: AC -2, 6d8 damage (plus paralysis), breath weapon, constriction and both cleric and magic-user spell array. And over 200 hp. If there has ever been a boss where even killer-GM ole’ me has said “That’s overkill”, this would be it. If someone, ANYONE out there has killed this thing sans GM-fiat or ridiculous custom damage magic items that deal a crapton of bonus damage, let me know. Unless, by some miraculous event, my math skills have taken a serious nosedive, the chance to defeat this thing, even f the PCs and players do everything right, are next to nil. And before you ask: That super-sword, the dungeon of which probably has cost at least one or two PCs their lies? It’s actually pretty underwhelming regarding its abilities to best this monstrosity.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with nice b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and the cartography is functional, but does not include player-friendly versions.

Alphonso Warden’s modules so far have been a mixed bag for me; on the one hand, there is a definite fascination that “The Lost Pyramid of Imhotep” managed to evoke, and I do like some of the creative traps. However, this does not change that, this module, alas, more so than the last, is frickin’ unfair in a bad way. Player agenda and skill do not matter that much, and the linearity of how this is supposed to work and solved, while not as pronounced as in previous adventures, lacks, much like the traps, a context that at least makes it possible for the players to deduce how this is supposed to be solved. More often than not, this comes down to luck and the roll of the dice, not to being clever.

And then there is the horribly out of whack difficulty. I’m not a GM who wants “level-appropriate challenges”; I throw dragons at 1st level PCs and expect them to run like crazy, grovel, etc. I have no problem TPKing my groups. But that type of thing must be EARNED and not subject to Gm fiat, to an adventure allowing only the author’s logic to persist. Unlike the lost pyramid, this lacks the mythology as a guiding principle, as an extensive, externalized hint-catalogue, and thus becomes, much as it pains me to say, an exercise in frustration. I so hope that the author would bring the same level of expertise and creativity regarding puzzles etc. to Norse myth in this one; instead, we unfortunately get a woefully unfair adventure that I would not inflict on any group. It’s not as bad as the atrociously-boring “The Prison of Meneptah”, but it’s close. My final verdict will be 1.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #11: The Conqueror Worm
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Advanced Adventures #10: The Lost Keys of Solitude
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/09/2018 04:26:06

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 29 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 26 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.

This adventure is intended for characters level 6 – 10, and in this case, the level-range is well-supported by the actual playing experience; you see, this module very much champions the old-school aesthetics of risk-reward-ratio; it is possible to experience this module as relatively easy, or as truly brutal, with player-greed very much dictating the difficulty and potential fallout stemming from exploring the complex depicted within. A well-rounded group is very much recommended to successfully tackle this one.

Now, it should be noted that the text on the back cover can make for a kind of introductory read-aloud text for the adventure, with the means of the PCs getting the eponymous keys otherwise not specified. As always in the series, we do not get read-aloud text or the like, the rules-system in question would be OSRIC, and internal formatting of rules-relevant information does not always adhere to the standards. The maps are b/w and functional, though the brief overland wilderness trek map provided lacks both scale and grid, which makes calculating traveling distances a tad bit annoying. While I’m on the subject of maps: The module sports the complex dubbed “Solitude” and the tunnels beneath it and has a clever means to prompt the PCs to explore, but more on that later in the SPOILER-section. In a really unfortunate decision, the module uses straight numbers for the rooms above and areas below the surface – thus, the short table that is supposed to help the GM track the whereabouts of the missing keys is less useful than it should be. The key is in room 14? Okay, which of the two? It’s a small thing that could have been rectified with simply adding letters to prevent mix ups and constitutes an unfortunate comfort-detriment. It’s not something that wrecks the adventure, mind you, but it’s so obvious, I wondered why it hadn’t been implemented. Instead, the subterranean complex uses letters to designate rooms that belong to humanoid territories, which makes the whole numbering/lettering convention feel a bit unfocused. There are no player-friendly maps included.

The adventure, though longer than usual for the series, spans 17 pages, with the rest devoted to supplemental material, in particular to a smattering of new creatures. 2 spells are provided: Champion of the Tome enchants a book to have a fighter-version of the caster appear to defend it, while Phineus’ Writhing Tentacles is a cool and dangerous spell to call forth the class mass of tentacles, which also gets a blinding effect, but makes up for that by blindly flailing at any target in range. The module also includes 5 magic items, which are per se solid, though the army of tireless tin soldiers is missing its XP-value. EDIT: I believe in owning up to my mistakes, so tehre goes: I misread this item to not be an artifact, when it clearly is. Mea culpa! Now, as far as the monsters are concerned, I’ll cover those in the GM-section below.

The module is in so far interesting in that it captures in an expert fashion the feeling of a very classic D&D-esque fantasy; from the random encounters in the wilderness to the constellations of adversaries faced, the adventure successfully evokes the fantastic vibe of old-school gaming with a slightly subdued, gonzo angle; you know, the feeling you had when you first encountered druids acting as rust monster shepherds? There is a sense of a very classic fantasy vibe that does not cross over into the weird or totally gonzo. If you enjoyed the old AD&D-classics like Desert of Desolation, then you’ll know what I mean.

All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. From here on out, only GMs should continue reading.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the PCs, after having encountered a weird hermit, have received some plaques depicting animals, which seem to interact when brought together, and which seem to provide a map through a mountain pass towards an unknown destination called “Solitude.” The wilderness trek, which does come with random encounters, is wholly linear in its fashion, as the terrain of the pass does not offer for opportunities to deviate from it. While the adversaries faced contain vermin and similar critters, there also is a valley where quite a few quickgrasses sprout´, and a fool’s dragon pair (think weaker, dumber dragon-like lizards) also waits in the way.

But what lies at the end of the journey? Well, Solitude is actually a monastery – or at least it looks like it. A slain T-rex, with plenty of meat cut from its flanks is a great example for the “(A)D&D-ishness” of the module: You see, while Solitude had lain abandoned for a long time, its gates have been since breached by spriggan siblings that lead a small army of gnolls. In the aftermath of inadvertently setting free the T-rex, one of the spriggans died, triggering a schism between the remaining siblings, who each have since taken their (rather well-equipped!) surviving gnolls, those that the dinosaur didn’t eat, that is, and started plotting the downfall of their brethren. An enterprising GM and smart players can observe these latent hostilities and exploit them, for the PCs will have to explore both monastery and the caverns below to truly find everything here – and encounter the strange creatures below.

The bestiary includes a predator that eats jellies and oozes and can spit them at targets; spiders that have developed a symbiotic relationship with deadly fungi; pixies degenerated into stirge-like beings – the pdf, in its best moments, feels like a celebration of the old-school vibe we all know and love. Not all critters are this creative, though: A deadly ambulatory fungus, a race of small degenerate humanoids and a magic-eating slime aren’t exactly super exciting. The bone-sovereign depicted on the cover, however, is surprisingly cool, and there is a fungal ring that can act as a safe haven for good folks…but will try to digest evil-doers and all nearby! Really neat! The pdf also includes stats for an elemental prince of water and a unique and horrid undead, ritually created via starvation (not as easy as it sounds, as the grueling ritual is described) – and the latter two should provide a clue to what Solitude actually is.

Some readers may have already come to the right conclusion, but let me spell it out nonetheless. Solitude, at one point, was a kind of artifact-level magical prison, and the tablets, the keys, are literally that – they open the cells of the inhabitants of Solitude, the inmates if you will. The erstwhile wardens have fallen prey to corruption and died, but the prisoners remain and include a dragon who has managed to tie her lifeforce to a volcano – slaying her may cause an eruption and untold suffering! Some other cells just hold treasure, though – so, once the PCs realize what this complex is, will they gamble? The T-rex freed by the spriggans provides ample warning for greedy PCs, so they can’t claim to not have been warned…

However, if the PCs are to collect all keys, they will also have to interact with the two sentient rodent species below the complex: On one hand, the Mus Maximus, smart mouse-people, make for unique and good folks that can be a boon; on the other hand, the groundlings, sentient groundhogs that are invisible to the undead make for a far less pleasant company…I was surprised to note that I did enjoy these two micro-societies and their depiction. All in all, this module has a lot of what I want in an adventure, and it executes its premise and flavor well; however, at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel like the premise of the module could have carried much more. Ultimately, the keys only grant access to rooms and that’s it. There is no sequence to the exploration, there are no ways for clever PCs to e.g. lock down parts of the complex with the keys and potentially make hostile forces take each other out after being caged. The evocative visuals and magical natures of the keys would have lent themselves superbly to making this a module where smart PCs could use the terrain to triumph against overwhelming odds, to quarantine evils inadvertently unleashed with foes, slowly whittling down enemy strengths. In short, the premise of the adventure is far stronger than the somewhat disappointingly mundane execution of the artifact-prison angle. Don’t get me wrong – I like this module. But I began reading this as super-excited and couldn’t help but feel somewhat blasé about the actual implementation of the concept. With a few less pages devoted to monsters, and a more clever dungeon, this could have been one classic for the ages.

Similarly, a timeline for the factions and the like, some clearly stated goals and agendas and subquests would have taken up not much real estate, but would have added to the sense of the complex being alive.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level, bordering on very good, with formatting, as noted before, being somewhat inconsistent. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with nice, old-school b/w-artworks. Not all monsters get art, but quite a few do. Cartography is serviceable, though the numbering/lettering conventions are somewhat unfortunately chosen. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

The team of Joseph Browning and Suzi Yee delivers a module that truly breathes the spirit of old-school (A)D&D; it feels right, and that tone is harder to hit than one would imagine. The adversaries faced are clever and brought me back to the time when I devoured the descriptions of ecologies of odd beings and monsters back in the day. I’m not a nostalgic man, but this hits the tone admirably well. That being said, at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel like this module could have made the step towards masterpiece simply by making full use of its amazing premise, which, at least to me, ultimately it did not end up realizing to its full potential. All in all, I consider this to be an adventure worth checking out if you’re looking for a neat old-school module. This is not the most convenient adventure out there, and its central concept for the complex could have been realized in an infinitely more rewarding manner, but as a whole, I do believe that this is worth a final verdict of 3.5 stars. For me as a person, I will round down. However, as a reviewer, I have an in dubio pro reo policy and thus will round up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #10: The Lost Keys of Solitude
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Advanced Adventures #9: The Lost Pyramid of Imhoptep
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/03/2018 05:14:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module 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 one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my leisure.

As always for the series, we have OSRIC as the default old-school system employed, and there are a few formatting deviations. Adaption to other old-school systems is pretty simple.

So, let me preface this review by stating one thing: The complex depicted herein is an inverted, subterranean pyramid, and this module has been penned by the same author as the utterly atrocious “Prison of Meneptah” – without the request by my patreons, I would not have bothered reviewing this, as I derive no satisfaction from trashing other people’s work. I am, as a whole, happy that this was requested, for while this can be construed to be a “bad” module in some regards, it can be rather intriguing for the right groups.

Now, the first thing you need to know, is that this hasn’t seen playtest – that much is pretty evident. The level-range noted, level 4 – 7, is ridiculous. Even at level 7, this adventure is exceedingly difficult and lethal. At the same time, however, much of this difficulty is derived from the demands the adventure has on the PLAYERS.

The angle is pretty simple: The PCs are hired to dig down at a hypostyle in a quasi-Egyptian environment. Now, the pdf does note that PCs won’t necessarily understand hieroglyphs they find; either they are locales, or they have a scholar on call that can slowly translate these. The adventure is probably not something the PCs can clear up in one go. There is a good chance the PCs and players will ram their heads against the solid brick wall of difficulty this adventure constitutes. Now, the “quasi” prefix of “quasi-Egyptian” is one potential weakness of the adventure that may well disqualify the module for your game: You see, being “close” to Egyptian does not suffice – the modules REQUIRES a VERY close analogue to real world Egyptian mythology and customs. It also requires that the players know a lot about the subject matter – and I mean A LOT. As such, if your group tends to differentiate sharply between character and player knowledge, you may consider this adventure to be problematic, to say the least.

As far as the dungeon is concerned, we do not have a lot of combat going on, which is a good thing here, as this is where the rules tend to falter badly; instead, we have a distinct focus on cultural puzzles and set-pieces. While the adventure is EXCEEDINGLY linear, the complex does not suffers from the sucky “Door closes, save or die” and “can’t use your tools” asinine design decisions of Meneptah’s prison. There is a stringent, internal logic to this adventure.

That being said, I consider this to be top tier difficulty and only an adventure that should be attempted by roleplaying game veterans, and only by groups that have at least one member that has PhD-levels of knowledge regarding Egyptian culture/archaeology/anthropology. I am NOT kidding, but in order to elaborate upon this fact, I will need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around?

So, as the name implies, legendary Imhotep constructed this pyramid. Think of the fellow as a wrld-weary demigod-level magical architect, and that is EXACTLY how he designed this complex. This is steeped in myth and as deadly as you’d expect. In the first proper room, we see locust-like flying devices, which would allow for the spanning of a vast pit. An inscription tells the PCs to become like Apshai and do aerial battle – and indeed, enter the 2-seater locust constructs initiates an aerial battle with analogue constructs attacking from the opposite side of the vast pit. While we are told about ammunition, how you tilt the joysticks to move them, etc., and ramming notes, neither ammunition, nor ramming damage are codified regarding the damage they inflict. While you can theoretically try to extrapolate the damage from the stats of the flying constructs, these have 3 attacks, with one dealing much more damage…which I assume is supposed to be the collision damage. Then again, the shots + collision will usually not be triggered in the same round, so ultimately, I was left utterly puzzled by how these are supposed to work. It’s not hard to improvise rules here, but yeah. Bad crunch design. Neither does the pdf note how many piece of ammo they can fire, their worth when removed, etc. Oh, and since the PCs aren’t accustomed to using these, they take a -5 (!!!) penalty to attack rolls. WTF. The smartest choice here is to activate the hostile constructs, hang back and shoot the incoming constructs out of the air. There is nothing that RAW prevents this, in spite of the note.

Room 2 has a statue that requires in-depth knowledge regarding Egyptian mythology and beliefs. 4 questions must be answered to pass, and here, all groups that don’t have this IRL-knowledge will probably be annoyed. “Who records the judgment of Osiris?” “In man, where does the seat of wisdom reside?” Those are two of the 4 questions, and if you’re not really into the nit and grit of ancient mythologies and the like, there is a big chance that this may grind the game to a halt. This is, as the ardent scholar may know, based on the Book of the Dead, and indeed, I strongly recommend a copy on hand when running this adventure.

As the PCs venture further, they will have to place vanquished undead within the mouth of Ammit, Eater of the Dead, as one further example of a relatively…”simple” task. It is in these that the module manages to evoke a concise atmosphere, manages to feel like it indeed is a proving ground made for the aeons. That being said, when the more mundane aspects are concerned, the adventure is less inspired – for example, a prismatic spray trap in a chest? At this level? That’s just nasty.

There is another “insect-vehicle”-battle scenario herein, where the PCs pilot basically a scarab tank, which alas, suffers from pretty much the same issues as the previous locust-encounter, but which should definitely be won: The scarab tank is the only means to reliably navigate a vacuum corridor, though thankfully, if destroyed, the PCs can still brave it – though that, indeed, is a save or die. The complex includes a Ra-themed mirror puzzle, a game of senet (yep, rules provided), rope-pulling with Set to balance the forces of good and evil, and PCs will have to bake sacred mefekezet bread to proceed. And no, if they have no idea what to do…well, bad luck. As noted before, this is not a forgiving module and requires extensive knowledge on part of the players.

Oh, and know what’s really sadistic? That mirror puzzle? Well, you need the sacred Benben stone to activate it. That stone, though? Slightly radioactive. Scratch that. Frickin’ radioactive. 1d4 damage every TURN. In a radius. No, the PCs are not told where that comes from. The stone’s on level 1. And while the levels are brief, it’s used on level 3 and the puzzle-heavy nature of the scenario will result in delays. This is just sadistic and requires very methodical players to solve. Clever deduction can zero in on the source, sure…but ouch.

The Pcs will also need to extract a bulb from the serpents of wisdom and survive battle with them…and if they don’t learn from the stone and don’t take the bulb along, they may be screwed. You see, there is an intricate, undetectable trap called “birthing of cosmic eggs” that will grind them to a pulp. It also seals the PCs in the area, and if they don’t have the bulb…well, tough luck. This trap is conceptually really interesting, but try as I might, perhaps due to the map, I couldn’t envision it – having a visual representation of the room would have been really helpful here – I kinda suspect a miscommunication regarding cartography here.

Ultimately, the PCs have to bypass multiple elemental walls (note that excess oxygen can poison you…) and make their way to the top of the inverted pyramid, which hangs from the ceiling in a vast flooded cavern: With the bulb, they can activate the barge towards Imhotep’s true resting place – provided they’re not eaten by giant crocodiles. Imhotep himself still awaits the worthy and rewards the PCs with something that is indeed in line with the challenge: Immortality.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, we have several pretty nasty issues crop up. Layout adheres to the classic two-column b/w-standard and the b/w-artworks provided are solid, if perhaps chosen for the wrong components. Cartography is a no-frills b/w and functional, though, as noted, one map is a bit weird, to say the least. There are no player-friendly versions of the maps included. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Okay, to spell that out loud and clearly: This is not a well-designed module. The rules are problematic, the challenges uneven and deadly, and without out-game information or a scholar on call, the PCs have next to no chance to solve this with in-game logic. This is brutal, linear and harsh and fulfills pretty much all aspects of game-design that I’d consider to be bad.

Here’s the thing: For a VERY specific target demographic, this is frickin’ amazing. And, alas, I am part of that target demographic. I once created a puzzle where the PCs had to assign a gigantic astrolabe to duplicate the constellations of a specific event that required a thorough understanding of the respective mythology. And my players like that kind of cerebral, lore-heavy problem solving. This adventure is extremely well-researched in pretty much every way; it often feels a bit like a point and click adventure and is horribly linear, yes. It is also horribly lethal. In fact, most folks should probably consider this to be a 2 star adventure at the maximum. Most groups will absolutely LOATHE this and should steer clear.

That being said: If you and your groups enjoy clever puzzles AND you are well-versed in mythology and culture AND your players are roleplaying games veterans that enjoy a brutal challenge AND they are the type that can approach a dungeon methodically AND you’re willing to improve on the flawed rules, then this can be AMAZING. I all of these components hold true for you and yours, then this can be a truly unique and captivating experience that will go down in the group’s annals.

Alphonso Warden’s “Lost Pyramid of Imhotep” is, in a way, like a really inaccessible cult movie or book that was written for a very niche audience. A niche audience I happen to know very well.

How to rate this?

Let me state that clearly once more: You should NOT get this module if all of the above doesn’t appeal to you, if you want mechanical perfection, etc. This is, when examined for its virtues of game-design, structure, etc., not a good module.

However, if you do love your mythology; if your players like challenges and are well-versed in ancient cultures or would enjoy you handing them the Book of the Dead as a kind of “research-handout”, if that type of thing sounds cool to you, then chances are that you’ll enjoy this far more than you should. As a person, I had a blast with this module! I really did! I am very cognizant of its copious flaws, of its massive issues, but it’s creative, smart and deadly – and if this sounds like it’d tickle the fancy of your group as well, then check this out. For you, this may even be as high as a 4 or 4.5 star-adventure.

Now, as a reviewer, I can’t bring myself to rate this down as much as I probably should; after all, there is a very specific appeal in these pages. I can’t rate this twice. Hence, my official verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded down – though I strongly suggest you instead consider this to have the verdicts I mentioned above, depending on your proclivities. For the very niche number of groups that this appeals to, it will do so in a thoroughly compelling manner.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #9: The Lost Pyramid of Imhoptep
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Advanced Adventures #8: The Seven Shrines of Nav'k-Qar
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/31/2018 03:59:31

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Now, as always for the series, the default rules employed within are OSRIC, and similarly, it’s easy to convert this to your preferred old-school gaming system. As always for the series, we have some formatting deviations from the standard. The module sports functional b/w-artworks, but these come without a player-friendly version.

As far as supplemental material is concerned, the pdf comes with two different magic items, one of which, oddly has lower XP values than the other, in spite of being worth more GP – some might object to that, though I did not mind.

The book also comes with new monsters: A generic tentacle thing, and a 12-feet tall stone beast with a horn can knock back/stun targets. Both left me unimpressed. Worse: A whole page is devoted to umbra smoke beasts. 8 boring shadow-smoke-y monsters that look like, for example, spiders. Or draconic creatures. Yay. Worse here: Their rules suck: “An arachnid can inflict its opponent with a venom that will cause the victim to slowly fade into shadow.” Okay. Rules? There are none. Save? No idea. That’s not the only error in these beasts on the page – and the sucky smoke beasts take up a whole page of an already brief adventure. Also weird: The eye-picking raptor RAW plucks out an eye with every attack…or it targets the throat. Effects of being struck on the throat? No idea. This is the most potent of these beasts regarding its effects, and it grants the least XP. The monster-section is a failure and uncharacteristically weak for both series and author.

As always, a well-rounded party is very much required. The pdf does note what can be gleaned via legend lore, and 10 rumors are provided. The pdf does note random encounters outside the dungeon, which includes three special ones with slightly more details. These are unspectacular, though. Cool: The pdf does note a variety of strange and haunt-like effects that can be used by the GM to retain the creepy atmosphere of the dungeon. Nominally, this module is for characters level 8 – 12, but considering how deadly it is, I consider 12 to be closer to what you probably want.

Now, in order to discuss the two-level dungeon contained herein, I need to get into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great, so Nav’k-Qar is basically a Tsathoggua-style Frog Demon God-stand-in who has fallen into obscurity; if you’re a fan of Frog God Games’ Lost Lands, integrating this module should not provide issues – make Nav’k-Qar a lieutenant etc. and be done with it. The dungeon’s floors are littered with a vast amount of toad bones, making navigation of the complex tricky –being required to “move quickly” means 40% chance of falling, -5% per Dex above 13. I assume that “moving quickly” means moving more than half movement rate, but this could have been more precise.

The first room is probably one of the best in the whole dungeon, with strange mists and mirrors establishing a really cool theme of deception, one that the dungeon, alas, fails to maintain. While the first level does branch and sports a really deadly false stairs deathtrap (which may seal in all PCs…), a lying golem, almost-instant-death crossbow-bolt trap (that fails to specify whether it requires an attack or save)…the traps are pretty deadly and generally interesting, but ultimately make the module feel basically like a convention-style meat-grinder. Compared to James C. Boney’s usual adventures, these traps feel less refined.

The module, alas, takes a further nosedive on the second level. We get 3 antechambers; from each antechamber, two of the eponymous 7 shrines can be accessed. The PCs will have to visit both shrines accessible to progress to the next antechamber. No means to bypass them, no rewards for smart players. The PCs have to “defeat” the shrine. What constitutes “defeating” it? No idea. It’s simple enough for the shrines that conjure monsters, but not for the trap-based ones. The trap-shrines are per se clever, but also fail – each shrine comes with a dread proclamation from Nav’k-Qar’s doctrine, which are in no real way related to the challenge. Smart PCs can perhaps avoid some of the more deadly effects.

Oh, and if the PCs miss one trap, they may end up buried, which has excellent chances of further cave-ins killing them. The final treasures sport a save-or-die poison needle, where the pdf notes “and it would be a shame to come this far and be taken out by a needle” – that’s just dickish. Then again, after this module, failing to check for traps would be a gross oversight.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are pretty good. On a rules-language level, the adventure isn’t half as tight as usual for the series or the author. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard with solid b/w-artworks and functional b/w-maps. There are no player-friendly maps, which is a comfort detriment. The pdf comes bookmarked for your convenience.

Odd. James C. Boney’s adventures are usually better. This feels like a pretty uninspired convention-game meat-grinder, one that sports several rules-inconsistencies, is needlessly lethal without really earning it, and the bonus critters are uninspired. I can, from the top of my head, name more than 10 (!!) frog demon god-themed adventures that mop the floor with these shrines. The adventure has some great ideas in a couple of rooms, with perception-mind-games, but these remain an afterthought. All in all, this module suffers from its brevity and leaves me with an overwhelming feeling of missed potential. I can’t go higher than 2.5 stars on this one, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #8: The Seven Shrines of Nav'k-Qar
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Advanced Adventures #7: The Sarcophagus Legion
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/24/2018 08:42:21

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, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

All right, as pretty much always for the series, this module uses the OSRIC rules-set and is easy enough to adjust to other old-school systems. It’s intended for characters level 2- 4, and a well-rounded group is very much suggested. That being said, difficulty-level-wise, I consider this to be a tough, but fair challenge – the module per se can be pretty tough if you want to “clear” the module and score all the treasure; focusing on the story makes it easier to complete – risk-reward ratio is sound.

Sand-borne lamprey like worms, stats for scorpion swarms and a giant black scorpion are included within, alongside another new critter, the vermin dog. More on those critters later. The cartography is functional, b/w, and, as always, we unfortunately don’t get player-friendly versions of the maps.

Structure-wise, this module represents two different modules, roughly connected by a mini-hex-crawl overland map, though the PCs will follow a specific trail, so no hexcrawling is really required – the wilderness behaves more like a point-crawl. Speaking of which: We do get notes on random encounters for the wilderness area, focusing on vermin, with a bit of undead thrown in; the wilderness area also features a selection of a few scripted encounters the PCs are going to happen upon.

Okay, there is one more thing you should know about this module: There is one problematic bottleneck herein, and it may well break the module for you and yours. Big plus: The attention to detail is surprising: Even old statues that are truly unwieldy note weight and potential GP-value when dragged out of the desert – really cool.

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

..

.

Only GMs around? Great! So, the PCs have been hired by Sultan Mehmet, a disgusting, misfigured man, to retrieve his fifth wife, Syriana, who has just been kidnapped by dervishes, a desert-dwelling tribe long in conflict with the sultan and his men. Thus, lancers guide the PCs to the desert, where they happen upon the carnage of the desert ambush – and provided they can get rid of the hostile vultures, they’ll be able to track Syrianas captors through the dunes.

Living through a sandstorm while tracking the dervishes, the PCs will also happen upon zombies, littered with scorpions, as they find the remains of the dervish party. These undead are modified to quickly heal, and smart PCs will notice that the scorpions, symbol of death, are the reason for the unnatural toughness of the shambling corpses – this is actually foreshadowing! Following Syriana’s last captor towards the mountains, the PCs can track the last dervish, the only one to survive the rigors so far, to the first dungeon. They’ll see him right away – in a pool of blood.

This is, once more, a clever means for smart players to be warned of danger afoot: The dervish has escaped to an abandoned dwarf complex, and dwarves are not exactly welcoming – so approaching the doors, we have a nasty knock-out gas trap; smart PCs will be warned and may pass through the semi-open outer doors and disable the gas. Even if the PCs fall here, the gas is non-lethal…and after the PCs have dealt with this hazard, they’ll notice that the dervish has fallen to the gas, then had his throat cut.

Looks like Syriana is no mere damsel in distress – unfortunately, this means that her trail leads into the depths of this desolate complex. The harsh welcome does provide a good example for indirect storytelling: The dwarves were adherents of a duergar-like, nasty God, one of toil and xenophobia; thus, their defenses, including the only slowly-opening doors with the gas-trap, rendered the complex a tomb when they were attacked from below. You see, a cadre of nasty derro annihilated the dwarven inhabitants of the complex, but they also met a grisly end: One magic-user among their ranks crossed dire rats and nasty dogs into a new, rapidly-spreading breed, the vermin dogs. These critters, aforementioned new monster, have spread, and slaughtered the derro – all but the mad mastermind that created them, who continues to labor in these darkened halls, half master, half prisoner of his creations.

This being may be found pretty quickly…or ignored altogether; a clockwork spider, dilapidated mining equipment and engines, all speaks of the tragedies, and the remains of the chief still hold the map to the wealth of dwarves – a nice way to seed the next adventure for the GM…and if in doubt, you can just have the map destroyed. Ultimately, the PCs will find the rather frightened Syriana. However, why would the PCs care about the story? Well, the adventure combines direct and indirect storytelling in an excellent and rewarding manner – The PCs can actually find out all of this via a ghost they can liberate and the things found throughout the complex.

Now, escorting the lady from the complex, we come to the one point that may sink the module for many groups: When stepping outside, the vizier of the Sultan awaits, alongside a massive force of soldiers: he tells the PCs to drop their weapons, throws their equipment into a fire-beetle pit and takes Syriana along. The Pcs are bound to stakes in the sand, left to die. Fighting, which many groups will want to, is a death verdict here – the forces arrayed against them are too strong, and the PCs are basically railroaded into giving up Syriana.

You see, unbeknown to the PCs, the Sultan’s haruspexes found out that she was the last member of a bloodline associated with a lesser known godling, Setenpre, associated with scorpions – her blood may be used to activate the eponymous Sarcophagus Legion, a potent undead legion. Via their own strength, or by some helpful dervishes, the PCs are free once more and then follow the trail of the vizier – thankfully, not all the force has accompanied the vizier – only his elite lizardmen janissaries.

Thus, the PCs get to explore the ruined temple of Setenpre, and they get the chance to save Syriana from the vizier’s blade, on a platform overlooking the dormant legion of the dead…but there is more in the complex, should the PCs choose to explore this complex. The indirect and direct storytelling employed within similarly manages to convey the complex’s story. There are unique hazards and adversaries to be found, and once more, the atmosphere is surprisingly concise and pitch-perfect.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, we have the usual formatting convention-deviations, though these are concisely implemented. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with solid b/w-artworks and functional b/w-maps. The maps do not come with a player-friendly version. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Andrew Hind’s second module is something that will prove to be divisive. The transition from the first to the second dungeon is a bad railroad, from a design perspective. It’s not an elegant way to write the module and takes player agenda away – from a structural perspective, this alone, with the lack of player-friendly maps, etc. should knock this down to 3.5 stars.

I’m not going to do that. Know why? Because here, this may not be oversight, but conscious design decision. And I think I can prove that.

You know, this module is not simply a Sword & Sorcery yarn. It is a loveletter to the genre that gets it. From the darkened and degenerate first former inhabitants of the first dungeon to every single story-beat, from the subtle foreshadowing to the enemy choices, this PERFECTLY hit the nail on the head.

…okay, so I have to note something here: My childhood hero’s Conan. When I got to the US, I scoured the comic book stores for the “Savage Sword of Conan” b/w-books, as they’re prohibitively expensive in Europe. This module is, in a way, like a PERFECT “Savage Sword of Conan” story to play yourself. The module gets the tropes perfectly right without being derivative. It won’t win an originality award, but it’s nigh perfect in what it seeks to accomplish…and this, alas, does include the potential deal-breaker railroad in the middle.

In short: If your players and PCs can appreciate the like, then get this asap – this is an excellent little module, and for me, as a private person, this is a 5 star + seal of approval gem. It hits the themes and style I adore perfectly. However, as a reviewer, I have to take this structural issue into account, and same goes for the lack of player-friendly maps – as such, I unfortunately can’t rate this higher than 4 stars, but this still gets my seal of approval. If you enjoy Sword and Sorcery as a genre, get this!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #7: The Sarcophagus Legion
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Advanced Adventures #6: The Chasm of the Damned
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/17/2018 05:12:10

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 advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my leisure.

As always with this series, we use OSRIC-rules as the default old-school system, with minor formal deviations from standard formatting, encompassing bolded spells and magic items, for example. The supplemental material includes a properly codified hand of glory magic item, and the pdf comes with 4 different, rival adventure groups that can be inserted as wild-cards into the game, particularly if the PCs have too easy a time. These groups are presented with basic stats noting magic items and spells, but no detailed write-ups of individual equipment. The module features three new monsters: A gargoyle variant that can, in groups, cause maddening winds that prevent actions of those affected; there would downy, small flying mammals with bat-like wings, poison and the ability to strangle targets on excellent hits. Finally, there would be the faceless ones, whom I will discuss below. Cartography is b/w, does its job, and the module sports 7 maps. Player-friendly maps, alas, are not included.

The following discussion contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

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All right, only GMs around? Great!

So, this adventure is a sandbox of sorts – a unique one! The number of competing groups noted before can also be determined randomly by the GM, and arrival sequence is similarly a kind of aspect that can be simulated with the help of the adventure. The adventure is intended for a well-rounded group of levels 6 – 10, though it should be noted that “winning” the adventure is probably left up to the higher levels. 12 rumors surrounding the chasm are provided for your convenience. The eponymous chasm is a “wandering” canyon of sorts – it magically pops up once every 37 years, for exactly 108 hours, before it vanishes once more. Its depths hold wonders, lost adventurers and stranger things – and as per the angle, the GM can easily integrate the module into pretty much any surrounding area. The predictability of the phenomenon also means that the “rush” for the chasm is very much justified. You could, in theory, even postulate a kind of chasm-micro-economy.

As you can determine from this unique set-up, the harsh and hard time limit of the chasm’s appearance and subsequent disappearance means that the PCs will have to hustle throughout the adventure. This, more so than anything, may be a limiting factor for the PCs exploring the chasm – in order to brave the trip, the PCs will have to conserve their resources, and there are two complexes, including the final one, which are linked caverns. The last one contains the potent secret at the heart of the strange behavior of the chasm – one that only PCs closer to the higher power-level will be capable of resolving.

As such, no two expeditions into the chasm will truly be alike: Lower level PCs will probably be exploring/looting, but not get to the bottom of the mystery; “Clearing” the location, though, will be an extremely difficult challenge. Anyhow, the chasm includes a total of 7 different mini-dungeons (as noted, caverns 5 and 6, and 7 and 8, are linked) spread out over three levels, and wandering monsters are provided for the dungeons. These range in themes: There is a cavern that contains orcs, one that houses svirfneblin (which may be allies of sorts); there is a cavern highlighting the aforementioned bogwings and one that houses deadly basilisks, petrified adventurers…and a frog that serves as a unique kind of oracle! Yeah, there is some nice weirdness herein, which never feels wrong or out of place, courtesy of the unique background of the chasm.

The faceless ones I mentioned before represent a healthy dose of weirdness, featuring the aforementioned variant gargoyles, with a birthing vat providing the respawning critters, and a weird mural can have unpleasant repercussions. There also would be the Gray Sultan, one of the fabled bosses here: A F12, Hp 90 monstrous bastard of a unique killer, whose attacks may instantly strangle targets…he can be one of the high-level bosses within: similarly, the entrapped godling within, Ar’Q-Ess, well-concealed, makes for one truly deadly final adversary – but to even get to the godling, the PCs will have to get past deadly demons and similarly potent foes.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are very good, provided you get past the formatting deviations. On a prose level, the module sports unique and interesting, concisely-written prose. Layout adheres to a classic, two-column b/w-standard, including artworks. Down to the fonts employed, this is pretty classic. The cartography, as noted, is b/w and functional, though we do not get player-friendly maps. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

James C. Boney’s “Chasm of the Damned” is a delight in the premise and idea underlying the complex. There are quite a few clever components here – the unconventional oracle is delightful, and similarly, some of the adversaries rock. The blend of the weird and “normal” makes sense and the strange microcosm presented is cool. That being said, compared to previous adventures the author has penned, e.g. looting a statue that may animate is basically a guessing game – no chance regarding magic or the like to discern a means to bypass the animation.

This could be taken as symptomatic for the whole adventure: While the location and narrative angle are absolutely inspired, while the ideas featured for the respective mini-dungeons contained in the chasms are intriguing, the module does suffer from its page-count and brevity – in a way, the adventure is too ambitious for the scant few pages available. The chasm connecting the mini-dungeons, interactions between the locales, remain afterthoughts and somewhat sketch-like. The potential interaction between groups, the potential, unique economy of the chasm, could have provided a thoroughly distinct, fun environment – one that the adventure, per se, does not manage to realize fully.

Don’t get me wrong. This module is still a very fun and distinct adventure that has plenty of replay-value; suffice to say, the module can be scavenged easily – you could hack this apart without any problems. At the same time, this could have been a true masterpiece with a couple more pages to develop the ideas. I found myself wishing that we’d got more weirdness for e.g. the Iron Sultan’s complex, for the faceless ones, etc. – the compressed nature of the presentation of these dungeon-vignettes acts as a major downside regarding the level of detail and imaginative depths the author can provide. In short: “Chasm of the Damned” is a good module; depending on what you’re looking for, a very good module, even; but it did have the chance to be something special and doesn’t realize this chance. I found myself wishing that this had received the page-count of the atrocious “Prison of Menptah” instead – with 32 pages, this could have been a masterpiece.

Oh well, as provided, this is certainly worth getting. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #6: The Chasm of the Damned
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Advanced Adventures #5: The Flaming Footprints of Jilanth
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/29/2018 04:20:53

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 2/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 14 1/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This module is intended to be used in conjunction with the OSRIC-rules, though, as always, modification for other old-school games is pretty simple; similarly, conversion to more rules-heavy systems is very much possible. The adventure is intended for 6 – 8 characters level 3 – 5, though third level PCs may face some casualties – this is not an easy adventure.

As usual for the series, we do have some deviations from the formatting conventions, with magic items bolded. Oddly, the item among the 5 magic items that is most crucial has its reference in the adventure text not bolded – instead of referring to the item by proper name, it is noted as by its reputation, with a longer description that lacks the tell-tale bolded formatting. Cartography featured is functional and b/w, though no player-friendly versions/VTT-versions are provided. The module includes 4 distinct creatures, all of which are unique and flavorful – I will note these in the discussion of the content itself.

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

..

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All right, only GMs around? Great! So, this module begins when the PCs are hired to investigate troubling occurrences: The Lord Admiral of Ranste, a thriving trade port, has vanished, and the streets are lined with the eponymous footsteps, all aflame, tell-tale trademarks of the long vanquished, legendary pirate Firebeard. The PCs are tasked to travel to the hex-mapped Isle of Jilanth, where the pirate once dwelled, and find out whether he has risen from the grave – and find the Lord Admiral, if possible.

The wilderness exploration of the island, just fyi, comes with a pretty nice wandering encounter table, which focuses on animals and vermin, including a one-horned variant of a Triceratops and three unique, scripted events, which feature undead crocodiles, carnivorous apes, and a site where human explorers once committed an act of genocide versus the lizardfolk natives. Yes, this section already is pretty damn cool.

Here is a structural peculiarity of this module: In a way, the adventure could be solved in a variety of ways and encompasses three different locations, which could all stand on their own. Their sequence, similarly, is not necessarily set in stone. At the same time, running the locales in the default order makes sense, as the dungeons connect and transition in a sensible manner.

The first of these locations would be the caves that once were inhabited by the pirates: Here, threats from crocodiles to piranhas await, and PCs can well fall prey to the rather challenges environments. A survivor of another adventurer party may be saved (potential replacement PC, the first such NPC encountered – remains of further members, barely alive or dead, can be found throughout the adventure), and beyond giant spiders, the suddenness of the pirates being killed still suffuses the place: From the creepy cellblock (with a nasty trap and some really creepy imagery) to the puzzle fight against the rope horror, one of the new critters and a thing of deadly…ropes, the complex rocks. Heck, the PCs may end up facing off versus a mummy voodoo witch! Amazing!

From there, a tunnel leads deeper into the mountain, and the second location beckons – an ancient gnomish enclave, where the inhabitants inadvertently unearthed something that deformed their children, making the gnomes slowly degenerate into cannibalistic madness – now, just a rubbery, disgusting hold creeper preys on explorers through these silent, deadly halls. And yes, PCs can actually research what happened here. The funeral rites of the lost culture allows greedy PCs to float a boat on the hold’s “river of the dead” to the tombs, potentially getting rich loot – provided, they survive the nasty countermeasures, that is!

Following the river upstream will lead the PCs to the abode of Jilanth’s wizard, Lazio Sharpe – coming through the subterranean, aquatic backdoor, the PCs thus can bypass the “wyvern” at the gates and deal with the seemingly mad wizard…though they will notice something odd: The wizard seems to have been replaced by a wax doppelgänger of himself, one that has managed to exile his master – once more, the PCs can actually find out about this if they do their job. Dealing with the doppelgänger of the wizard still does not solve the mystery of the culprit of the footsteps though: Clever PCs may note that the wax creatures have exiled their master, and thus explore the jungle – and indeed, Lazio has been captured by the local lizardfolk, who are in the process of making him a ritual feast! Unfortunate here: The lizardfolk encampment lacks a map, making the climax of the module somewhat weaker than it should be. Still, the wizard can reward the PCs,s hould they save him, and the mystery of the boots and flaming footsteps is resolved…but where is the Admiral? That’s for the GM to decide!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a classic two-column b/w-standard with a few nice b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography is functional, but lacks player-friendly versions and the final locale is not mapped.

Andrew Hind’s “Flaming Footsteps of Jilanth” is the best of the early Advanced Adventures. Each of the three small dungeons has a strong, evocative leitmotif; story matters and PCs that explore thoroughly are rewarded with the means to understand what’s happening. Risk and reward are well balanced, with the deadlier, optional components also providing better loot. In structure and atmosphere, this is excellent through and through, though the absence of a map for the final locale, and the lack of player-friendly maps do slightly mar what would otherwise be a thoroughly excellent adventure.

This is still very much worth getting and comes recommended by yours truly: My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #5: The Flaming Footprints of Jilanth
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Advanced Adventures #4: Prison of Meneptah
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/06/2018 11:05:19

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 33 pages, 1 page front- and back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisements, leaving us with 28 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This adventure is intended for characters level 8 – 10, 4 – 7, to be precise. Well…I honestly think that twice that number may be more realistic, with a well-diversified group being of tantamount importance. Sans at least one character in the core 4 classes, this is essentially unbeatable.

So, an order of planes-exploring wizards has mounted an assault into basically a region of Hell that behaves akin to a pocket-plane. We’re talking about a desert here, just fyi. Okay, first thing: We’re talking about an order that can field excursions into Hell. This requires, for many settings, an introduction of such a powerful force, which is not exactly nice. That being said, the planar-angle, which otherwise doesn’t really come into play, serves as a justification for the extensive, elaborate background story: Basically, the good god Meneptah (stats included) led his civilization into battle against an evil civilization, resultin in his capture, and in the aftermath, destruction of his captors. How is this relevant to the plot? Well, it’s not. It’s a needlessly elaborate backgroundstory that makes adding the adventure sans the planar angle problematic. So, story-wise, you’re left with a) the option to introduce a super-powerful magic-user order, or b) introduce not one, but two fallen civilizations. Both are needlessly tough on a GM’s lore regarding the world and both ultimately have no bearing whatsoever on the plot. This verbose and extremely detailed amount of backstory is perhaps the one thing that you can consider to be a strength regarding the module, but ultimately, it is NEVER relevant for the PCs and cannot be unearthed

Oh, I wished that this was the main issue. I am “spoiling” the module in this review, and I won’t even bother with the usual warning apart from this, as the module does not warrant it.

Anyways, know how one of the things that make OSR-modules often stand out, is that the authors can focus on lore, creating cool scenarios, and less on stats? Because OSR.mechanics are so simple? Well, the pdf is sloppy in that regard, referencing weapons not featured in OSRIC’s tome.

I’m getting ahead of myself. The PCs basically enter the region, and begin with an overland exploration. There are some nomads (camp not mapped), some wilderness encounters and travel times noted; among the random encounters, we focus on desert monsters. Motivations for the encounters are pretty simplistic, but solid. From here, we move to the ruined capital of the evil Muhatian nation that imprisoned Menptah. The city’s ruins are not mapped, and enemy encounters are undead. Vanilla, bland undead. No unique abilities. Odd: The palace of the king is several hexes away from his capital, and mapped as an 8-keyed encounter region. That’s fully of the same, generic undead. It is also here that a nasty trap can be found – magical foodstuff that actually strengthens evil treants nearby. If the PCs are smart…that doesn’t matter. 20th level non-detection masks the alignment of effects and the illusion featured here. This kind of screw-job, alas, is a leitmotif throughout the adventure.

This becomes more evident in the Tomb of Zoser, which is a straight and linear dungeon exploration. (As in: Super-linear: 15 keyed locations, pretty much in a straight line.) Here, the elemental princes f ice and magma are imprisoned, sitting on their thrones, waiting for the PCs to stumble in. No, I am not kidding you. There is also an airship here that must be used to navigate basically to the end of the complex – no bypassing possible, with a combined Strength of 112 required to open a door otherwise. Indeed, this module is dickish. As in: Beyond “Tomb of Annihilation”-levels dickish. As in “What were they thinking???”-levels. Need an example? The gates to the tomb are poisoned – touching them nets you a save-or-die. And know what’s “fun” – it’s contact poison that ignores wearing gloves. Why? Because the author said so. It’s just not fair. I don’t object to save or die, but it should be earned, the result of the player’s actions. This is just dastardly, random, bad fiat.

Basically, you’ll note pretty soon that there are a couple of things that the module does:

You play this module EXACTLY how the author intended, or not at all. Alternate problem-solutions are not taken into account and actively discouraged. Creativity is punished. Constant “A Wizard Did It”-syndrome – I mean it. All the time. There is no rhyme or reason or theme to anything. The author tries to paint over this with lore. It doesn’t work. Overabundance of undead and ghosts. Guess what happens at the end of the little dungeon? Bingo! Punishment of exploration. The dickish nature of the dungeons and scenario as a whole penalizes the PCs for exploring, when their mission is to do just that. You murder-hobo EVERYTHING. You can’t skip/bypass encounters. Kill, kill, kill.

These are but the first issues. The next, similarly optional dungeon, is a 6-keyed locales temple may be the highlight of the module, with demon lord shrines and a lamia + demon-lover making for something unique…but again, no chance for the PCs to truly learn their extensive background story. The hackfest continues.

And then, we get to the prison, which MAKES NO SENSE whatsoever. The prison is NOT designed in any way to keep a deity imprisoned; it is crafted as a “test of worthiness” for the PCs, which makes NO SENSE, even if you buy into the backstory. The main-dungeon of the module, the one non-optional locale, is just DUMB. There is a sequence of rooms that is crafted to challenge the respective member of the 4 core classes. One for magic-users, one for fighters, one for thieves and one for clerics. There is also a fifth sequence of rooms that requires so-called puzzles to solve; depending on the equipment your PCs carry, they may not be able to pass here. Don’t have a bolt that you can bless? First room can be a dead end. And yes, ALL of these paths must be explored to enter the final room and free Meneptah. This dungeon is utterly ATROCIOUS and represents a great callback to everything that sucked about old-school adventures. If you need your nostalgia-goggles taken off, look no further.

All right, so first of all, know how PCs at this level have divinations? And how good modules incorporate their required use into their challenged? Well, none of them work in the complex. Why? No idea. Furthermore, teleportation, bypassing of rooms, etc. is strictly prohibited…for the players. The beings in the complex, the monsters etc. can use them wily-nily, which once more reeks of GM-fiat. Speaking of which: A room with a wall to scale…prevents flying. At this level. Why? Because the author wills it so. There is NO means to reward tactics. Smart players are stumped by doors locking, combat ensuing – attempts to prevent the like are met with the equivalent of a bad PC game forcing your wizard to open the door and stare right down into the minigun. This is scripted and strips the PCs of any meaningful agenda. Let’s return to our list and add:

Nerfing of earned Player character-capabilities to ensure that the module is played “the right way”, i.e. as the author wishes it to be played. Fiat and inconsistency regarding monster-capabilities – the PCs should have, at the very least, some way to unlock their powers. Living creatures placed sans rhyme or reason, waiting for the PCs. Constant sabotage of any player-agenda and clever use of PC-resources.

Wanna know what’s also pretty much the epitome of “fun”? A mirror of opposition at the end of the respective challenges that duplicates the respective class and has a chance to petrify EVERYONE else. This type of save or suck repeats for ALL of them. Also lulzy: There is a lever of an obscure puzzle that penalizes PCs that get it wrong (we get Myst-levels of hints) with no less than THREE different save or die/petrify-beams. Sounds like fun already? No? Surprise. If by some sort of masochistic drudgery, your players manage to get to the end, we’ll have a boring 2 demon-final boss fight that, after this complex, is all but guaranteed to wipe out remaining PCs – a balor and a nalfeshnee. At this level. After a dungeon of non-skippable save-or-die crap. This leads me to the final point to be added to the list:

Generic, bland enemy-selection, from start to finish. If it’s not generic, it makes no sense.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level are pretty good, though the deviation from OSRIC’s formatting style somewhat galls; on a rules-language level, the pdf manages to get rules-aspects wrong, in spite of the system’s simplicity. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with a couple of b/w-artworks that range from solid to okay. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The b/w-cartography is functional, but lacks player-friendly versions.

Alphonso Warden’s “Prison of Meneptah” has no redeeming qualities as far as I’m concerned. I try hard to see the positive in any supplement or module I review, but here, I got NOTHING.

This module is HORRIBLY designed and commits pretty much all cardinal sins you can imagine. It is a needlessly cruel and linear, nonsensical meatgrinder that punishes players for not thinking like the author. It’s less like playing a pen and paper RPG, and more like playing a horrible, badly-designed RPG on your PC or console. You know the type. The game that forces your wizard main character to open the door to the obvious death trap, because he’s the main character. That breaks its own rules for monsters and NPCs. The game that you can only win by making copious use of Quick Save/Load. This module is the pen and paper equivalent of such a game.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like tough as nails killer adventures and meatgrinders. But they need to be fair. LotFP has a couple of super-deadly modules I absolutely adore; and even in them, save-or-die must usually be earned and is the consequence of player-actions. This book hobbles and nerf PCs and then punishes them, constantly, for not playing by rules that the players and characters CAN’T KNOW. I ADORE puzzle-dungeons, and the final dungeon herein is pretty much a perfect example why they have a bad reputation – the challenges make no true sense and don’t fit into a prison. They are arbitrary and sloppily designed.

From the fluff that is needlessly hard on the GM regarding integration, to the lame enemies, linearity and mind-boggling blandness of the encounters faced – there simply is NOTHING to salvage here. I wouldn’t GM or play this adventure if you paid me for it. This has not seen contact with any semblance of reality at the table, and feels like a novelist’s attempt to write an adventure sans any understanding of how adventures actually work in practice. This lacks any semblance of foresight and, once you take away the lore, which has no impact on anything within and can’t be unearthed either, you’re left with the module that is pretty much the epitome of every single design-sin from the days of yore. There isn’t even nostalgia to be had here, courtesy of the super-generic and arbitrary challenges posed. This is not even “so bad it’s funny”-bad; it is just abysmal in every single way I can conceive.

This module has the dubious honor of being the single worst adventure I have read in the last 5 years. 1 star. Steer clear.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #4: Prison of Meneptah
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Advanced Adventures #3: The Curse of the Witch Head
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/30/2018 04:21:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front and back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreons to be undertaken at my leisure.

Now, it should be noted that this, like all modules in the series, manages to cram a significant amount of material into its pages, providing a rather impressive amount of text into the pages. The adventure features a new hazard-concept as well as three new monsters; however, with the exception of one of them, they tie in with the story, and thus will be covered in the SPOILER-section.

As before, the series employs the OSRIC-rules and is easily adaptable to other OSR-games (and more current ones). Formatting-wise, it should be noted that spells and magic items have been bolded, and the same goes for monster names and major negative conditions mentioned in the text. This deviation from formatting standards is not exactly something the OCD-guy in me likes, but they’re consistent, so yeah – I can live with that aspect.

The adventure is intended for 4 – 6 characters level 6 – 10, though it should be noted that a good mixture of character classes is very much recommended. This is a difficult module, though one that thankfully derives its difficulty mainly from player-skill as well as referee-prowess.

In order to discuss this, though, I need to go deep into the SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

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All right, only referees around? Great!

So, the eponymous witch-head is an indestructible artifact of pure evil and malevolence – but thankfully, it has been sealed away in a complex dedicated to goodness. But, alas, as is the way of the world, the hero who sealed away the witch-head’s bloodline did not strengthen. Instead, the current duke, Ymis, has to contend with a distant cousin named Dalan, who seeks to abduct his cousin Derica to solidify his claim on the title and overthrow Ymis. While he has managed to secure the dread witch-head, he can’t penetrate the warded estate. This is where the adventurers come in.

Basically, the PCs enter a complex designed by the forces of good, which has been overtaken by evil adventurers, with the darkness of the artifact slowly seeping into the designs of the dungeon. This makes the dungeon complex feel really, really unique: In a shrine, the PCs can watch the oscillation of forces of good and evil vie for dominion, with potent buffs and debuffs. The good nature of the complex also is reflected in rooms of purpose – potentially super-deadly trap-rooms that don’t kill smart PCs, courtesy of the good guys obviously including safety measures. These rooms of purpose reward smart PCs and represent one of my favorite aspects herein – the module emphasizes player skill over PC skill with many of the decisions, and smart players will soon realize that separating the actions of the evil pretender’s posse from the architecture of the complex itself will yield them a big advantage.

Speaking of which, the outlaws that accompany Dalan are actually 6 fully statted, proper NPCs, with spells prepared noted if applicable. They also have their very own motivations and dynamics and can, in the hands of a capable referee, make for a formidable dynamic encounter to complicate the exploration of the complex. One of the new monsters deserves special mention: The rancid is an otyugh-like, wicked thing that can cause long-time barfing (and thus lock down a careless group fast); it can also cause a really quick wasting disease, which inflicts 2d10 damage per hour…and needs a 14th level caster to cure. There are not many of these things in the dungeon, thankfully, but contracting the disease is pretty much a death sentence for the level. Not a big fan there. The second creature herein would be another somewhat dynamic encounter – a specialized golem that knows the secret doors of the place and looks like a multi-armed minotaur stalks the halls, adding a further complication to the proceedings. My favorite creature here, though, would be the prism ward – basically a pretty harmless, floating crystal that reflects light as super-deadly blasts, acting light a living light amplifier. One of my favorite traps herein is a wand of illumination, wedged in the wall, with a magic mouth (not formatted properly) appearing and speaking the trigger word, aiming at the creature. It’s clever and deadly.

So, beyond aforementioned, dynamic aspects, we have an uncommon kind of bottleneck, namely an underground lake that needs to be crossed. Careless players will bite off more than they can chew here – if the journey is not handled smartly, they may well fall. There’s a reason for this. Dalan has already been corrupted and all but consumed by the Witch-Head. While he has the potent staff of screams that may stun and deafen the PCs for a while, he also has a grand total of whopping 15 hit points, which means he can be pretty much one-shot-killed by a lucky PC. This pitiful, lone boss, separated from his formidable posse, is intentional, for the true climax here would pertain interacting with the artifact and not succumbing to its malevolent power. In a way, Dalan and his evil group are warnings to the prospective bearers of this horrid artifact. And yes, we get tight rules for its use. It demands a steep price indeed…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, I noticed no serious issues. Layout adheres to the no-frills, classic 2-.column b/w-standard of the series and the pdf sports some nice, original b/w-artworks. The cartography of the complex is functional, if not impressive, and unfortunately sports no key-less player-friendly version for VTTs or printing out and cutting up. On the plus-side, the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Sometimes, less is more. James C. Boney’s second Advanced Adventure only covers a single dungeon level, as opposed to the Red Mausoleum’s three, but takes it time to properly develop the complex and its inhabitants. The different forces at work in the complex lend it a unique atmosphere, and the inclusion of basically a hostile adventurer group adds some serious spice to the proceedings. I also loved the intentionally anticlimactic BBEG, as this is something that many an author would have shirked away from. That being said, the relative brevity of the module does show a bit. Having a full patrol schedule/AI-like action/response-sequence for the hostile NPCs would have been the icing on the cake.

Still, all things considered, this represents a fun and flavorful dungeon with some creative hazards and challenges. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #3: The Curse of the Witch Head
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Advanced Adventures #2: The Red Mausoleum
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/29/2018 04:54:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front and back cover, 1 page editorial, 2/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 14 1/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreons, who graciously bought the module and told me to finish it at my convenience.

Now, this is the second of the Advanced Adventures-modules released by Expeditious Retreat Press, and as such, it is not the latest offering of the author – James C. Boney moved on to create other adventures, which will be covered in due time. As with the first module and all in the series, the default rules system employed herein would be OSRIC. Also, like the first module, this chooses to deviate from formatting conventions, bolding magic items and spells, for example.This is not employed with 100% consistency, though.

The module introduces a new material, a kind of magical fabric that is as tough as metal, and it features three creatures: The illustrated Gehzin are basically telekinesis-using extraplanar frog folks with nasty diseases; harbingers are slain fallen paladins that have not atoned for their sins, revived by the forces of the abyss, and finally, shadowcaps are more of a hazard than a creature – the shrooms are my favorite critter here, as their spores render your incorporeal! Yeah, damn cool and something I’ll be using in games, regardless of system.

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

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All right, only GMs around? Great! The premise of this adventure is rather simple: There have been undead excursions coming from the swamp and the PCs are sent in to fix this issue. After a trek through 15 miles of non-mapped swampland, the PCs arrive at the eponymous red mausoleum, ostensibly the source of the living dead roaming the land. The brief wilderness trek does come with a random encounter table, which is appreciated and feels “right”, in that it does not clutter the desolation of the swamp with humanoids, instead focusing on animals and vermin...including brain moles! This is smart, for it makes for a sharper contrast when the PCs actually find the complex.

They’ll notice that they’re in the right vicinity by redness oozing from the stones, coloring everything, which makes for some really neat visuals.

Now, the mausoleum was erected by a long gone civilization obsessed with blood and unlife, and as such, is not a nice place. A big plus here would be that the module doesn’t waste x pages depicting this civilization, instead opting for an indirect narration; the PCs get to piece together some aspects of how this society worked as they explore the complex. Provided they even get in.

You see, this very much is a module that not only is written for high level PCs, it also assumes appropriate player-capabilities, all without the GM having to constantly improvise. The complex does not hobble the PCs by artificially limiting their options, which is a huge plus. In fact, the module assumes that PCs and players have amassed a degree of competence during their adventures. So, if by any chance you managed to reach these lofty levels by just murder-hobo-ing your way through everything, you’ll suffer. What do I mean by this? Well, one of the best aspects of this adventure would be that, from the antechamber of the dungeon to a lot of bottlenecks of sorts, you’ll need to deal with puzzles. Not in the annoying way, mind you. The mausoleum has an array of defenses and these are often tied to obscure command words etc. – in short, you’ll finally get some use out of those divination spells. The module assumes that you’re using the like, and while there are ways for PCs to brute force these instances, we ultimately have a module here that asks the PCs to use their considerable resources. That’s a good thing and something high level modules often get wrong.

Better yet, the GM actually gets the command words spelled out, which may be a small thing, but it adds to the sense of the immersion when the players have to recite the pass phrase. The demands on well-rounded groups are also mirrored in the way in which dungeon progress is made: You see, the connections between levels are magical and require the understanding and use of some remnants of these days gone by; not true understanding, mind you, but rather a general concept – this is an altar, with this and that move, we can bypass it…

As a whole, this creates an interesting overall feeling that manages to evoke the sense of properly delving into an old complex. Anyways, these magical connections…they actually don’t last that long. If the PCs dawdle, they may well find themselves caught in the complex, forced to delve deeper. And yes, smart groups will have means to offset that, but I still considered it to be smart from a design-perspective.

Now, as far as random encounters go, the dungeon is very much a themed dungeon, in that the PCs will fight undead, undead, and, for a change, undead. In hordes. This is reflected both in the bosses and in the random encounters, which are btw. replenished pretty quickly…and there’s a reason for that built into the module as well, which is a big plus for me. The living dead don’t just pop up, after all. Anyways, the most remarkable non-undead encounter on the 3 dungeon levels that this adventure encompasses would be a tomb of honored knights, which, in a somewhat random move, houses a ton of creatures in stasis, which are consequently released in waves once the grave-robbers…her, I mean “adventurers” venture into the area. I am not a fan of the lay of stasis angle and the critters actually may end up fighting each other, which can make this a nice free-for-all. That being said, I wasn’t too keen on this encounter, as opposed to the exploration of the complex and the implicitly conveyed lore of the place. Which may also be a reason why I wasn’t too blown away by the presence of crypt things. The creature always seemed gimmicky to me and I have very rarely seen it used well. (TPK Games’ Caragthax the Reaver would be such an example.) Anyhow, these criticisms notwithstanding, the first dungeon level can be considered to be a success – it is flavorful and challenging.

Level 2, alas, is a slog/labyrinth. Level 2 is basically winding, claustrophobic catacombs with some spaces, where blocks react to the presence of good alignment creatures passing, sliding in place. Much to my surprise and in some form of minor inconsistency, the architects of the complex don’t use this feature to the full extent, imprisoning PCs etc. – instead of deadly, it just ends up as disorienting, which is probably the intent. The level is also crawling with undead and has precious few keyed encounters. It is, in essence, a level that exists solely as a war of attrition on PC-resources, which, per se, is a smart move for high level games. However, I really wished it had more going on. After the atmospheric first level, this one felt a bit more generic.

Level 3, then, would be the heart of the complex and a flooded passage may actually allow for escape, should the PCs find themselves in over their head. It is also here that we have the module’s most devious trap, which includes demons and a pocket dimension in a false crypt. And yes, potential for eternal imprisonment included. Combat-wise, this does sport the most memorable fight in the adventure: There is a ritualistic area, where a massive mandala on a raised pedestal channels negative energy, summoning hordes of the living dead to crawl from a pit, with a metal dome to keep its powers in check currently raised atop it. Lowering the dome can make the constant stream abate. This is very cool, and while harbingers and Gatheris, a level 21 cleric/level 19 magic-user lich have their abodes in the vicinity, I found myself wondering why they don’t join the fray here – it’d make more sense and be more climactic. Also, RAW, the lich may come with a buff-suite of sorts, but still deigns to fight the PCs more or less on his own, which, even in the lesser power-levels of OSR-gameplay, tends to be a bad idea for high level casters. Reliance on summoned aid doesn’t help as much and a caster in melee with a good fighter can be a pretty bad idea. Then again, perhaps this was intended, as resting in the complex is tough and the 2nd level’s war of attrition on the PCs can really drain their resources. Still, I think combat in the mandala-room would have been more remarkable and interesting.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. I noticed no glaring issues. Layout adheres to an elegant, old-school two-column b/w-standard. The pdf sports a few solid pieces of b/w-artworks and comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The complex comes with okay b/w-maps, but no player-friendly version is included, which constitutes a comfort detriment for GMs like yours truly who hate drawing maps and enjoy handing out cut-up map-segments to the PCs.

James C. Boney’s “The Red Mausoleum” does a lot right. It is obvious that the author knows the capabilities of high-level PCs first-hand and has experience handling such groups, which is a huge plus: The design of the complex doesn’t just nerf or hobble them, instead working WITH the vast options the PCs have. That is good indeed. From the antechamber throughout most of level 1, I was pretty hooked: The stark visuals of the red complex and the clever “archaeology” of sorts that is needed to progress managed to elicit a sense of wonder that I enjoyed very much. Alas, after level 1, the complex feels like the lack of wordcount left for the subsequent levels necessitated a less interesting take on the remainder of the mausoleum. A good GM can make level 2 feel really claustrophobic and dangerous and level 3’s mandala-room is amazing, but in contrast to how the first level felt, they are less of a unique complex, and feel more like a standard evil-necro-lair type of complex.

The unique tidbits take a back-seat to defeating undead, undead…and then, even more undead. I don’t object to that necessarily, but it is evident in the writing of level 1 and in the glimmers where these become more unique, that they could have been more. I really enjoyed how this module started, but not so much how it progresses. That being said, design-wise, the subsequent levels aren’t bad and work in the context of the complex, they just aren’t as remarkable. I do NOT want the civilization explained, mind you; but some effects for the seeping red, some global tricks, perhaps blood locks or the like…the visuals and theme of the complex imho deserved more in the lower levels. This has the makings of something remarkable, and then settles for a solid, if conservative complex. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform. If you’re willing to tinker with the complex a bit, you’ll certainly find some cool ways to expand it.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #2: The Red Mausoleum
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Advanced Adventures #1: The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/27/2018 03:56:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first of the Advanced Adventures-modules clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front- and back cover, 1 page editorial ½ a page SRD, leaving us with 14.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look.

This review was requested and provided as a prioritized review by one of my patreons.

All right, quick history lessons – this is, to my knowledge at least, may well be the first ever commercially available OSRIC-module ever, which is a pretty huge deal that renders this a sort of almost historical relic of sorts for fans of OSR-style gaming. Now, the trade-dress evoked by the module obviously hearkens back to feelings of nostalgia, and indeed, structurally, this very much is in line with what you’d expect from a classic module – from the font to the lack of read-aloud text, to the aesthetics, the adventure manages to evoke the same sort of feeling, which is a good thing per se for the target demographic.

Now, I like playing advocatus diaboli, and indeed, there are things to complain about regarding the otherwise very concise aesthetics: If you truly want the classic experience, you may be galled by the absence of blueprint style maps in the interior of the covers – personally, I don’t mind. However, in the adherence to the classic formula and trade-dress aesthetics, the module also kinda ignores some industry standards – personally, I would have loved to see e.g. player-friendly maps or VTT-capable ones. There are plusses, though – the interior artwork, also penned by the author, has a distinct style I very much enjoyed. More importantly for me at least was a pet-peeve of mine – formatting is inconsistent. Magic items and spells are sometimes italicized as per the OSRIC standard, and sometimes bolded, with no discernible rhyme or reason. Now, to be fair, they are always highlighted in some way, which helps navigate and run the adventure, but the inconsistencies still galled me.

Now, on a more positive side, the pdf sports a total of 5 new monsters – vampiric moss would be pretty self-explanatory; the deadly funghemoth can be seen, or so I assume, on the back cover; the pod-men and the eponymous shroom (think evil wizard shroom-people) can also be found…but my favorite critter herein would be the snagwort. These are ugly, ropy plants hanging from the ceiling that attach their tendrils to adventurers and seek to smash them into the walls until they’re a bloody pulp. They are more hazards than really combat-material, but here’s the fun part: Their glue persists for a while after death. And they’re heavy. Yes, chances are that one of two of your PCs will carry one of their carcasses around for a while.

Now, the module is designed for 6 -8 characters of levels 2 – 4, and I’d strongly suggest a good mix of character classes. While this is no meatgrinder as far as OSR-modules are concerned, it similarly is not easy.

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

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.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the first thing you need to know is that this actually has some replay value, at least for the GM. The module is designed so it can be tackled from two directions: Either from the ground/underworld, moving up (for example after the PC’s first dungeon collapsed/stranded them in the lightless depths), or, in a more classic manner, with the PCs exploring the depths, seeking to destroy the evil lurking down there. This two-directional approach is also mirrored in the dungeon-structure, for, whether you believe it or not, these few pages manage to contain 3 dungeon-levels. No, I am not kidding you.

Each of the levels sports a brief note on random encounter frequency is provided for each level, with the shroom’s lair, level 2, featuring a patrol as well. Now, what I liked about level 1 is that each encounter gets a little bit of agency – it’s just a word like “hunting”, “patrolling” etc., but it helps immensely in my part – alas, in a bit of inconsistency, this cool feature is not retained for level 2 and 3. Indeed, as a whole, the 1st and 2nd lvel are stronger than the third: In level three, we have basically abandoned laboratories and components of the shroom’s complex that have been left behind in the move towards the surface. Here, a map of the upper levels can be found (cue once more my complaint regarding player-friendly maps) and rogue pod men may be found; there is also quite a bit of delightful old-school weirdness and, as some may claim, sadism: There is a goblin shamaness who welcomes the PCs with open arms, thinking that a trapped ghast is her god. The aftermath of this encounter may well see the PCs meet the god of goblins. Similarly, there is a pool containing a sarcophagus: If the PCs dive down, they may trigger a squid-ink trap and find themselves in a black pool with a newly liberated undead. Fun times – and hey, no one said that graverobbing and adventuring would be wise professions to pick up.

That being said, the adventure as a whole does a really good job or balancing risk and reward for players: The module does not throw unfair situations at them and the risk incurred is always the result of their own actions or lack thereof – in short, this is not dickish, it’s fair in its difficulty. Still, compared to level 1 and 2, the third level lacks a distinct leitmotif and simply is less interesting.

You see, level 1, from the get-go, manages to grasp my interest: The means of egress into the cmplex has a sensible mechanism that allows smart PCs to use it, providing a bit of realism there – and subsequent incursions after retreats actually have consequences. The presence of a stream that runs through the complex as a sort of irrigation process further highlights this. The first two levels feel very much like organic, sensible set-pieces with strong leitmotifs: The first level sports, for example, maddened tree offspring of a captive treant that can be found at level 2; a giant leech-infested pool provides an alternate means to go further down. There is abit of weirdness here, which is also encapsulated by weird and unique mosses growing in some caverns and the PCs can e.g. find fish mincers (and, in level 2, those for…bigger lifeforms…), which is used by the shroom to create the disgusting nutritional paste made to cultivate his growing army of pod-people. The first level manages to foreshadow concepts in the second level, providing weirdness, yes, but also hinting at the explanations – this indirect storytelling is really rewarding for the PCs and players alike.

Ultimately, the PCs will make their way to the prison (where they should be careful regarding what they do) and the main complex of the shroom – they’ll witness the pods and have a chance to put an end to the growing army and machinations of the hyper-intelligent fungoid threat – whose labs btw. contain detailed documents as well as a potion rack with no less than 20 potions, which contains, for xample such gems as “liquid wood” or weird potions that make you runin circles and scream for a few turns.

The eponymous sinister shroom is no pushover, btw. – with potent pod-man bodyguards and quite a few spells and HD, he will definitely test the mettle of the PCs, particularly if they are at the lower end of the suggested level-spectrum. Have I mentioned the big bad funghemoth, which may actually be used to help clear the complex if the PCs are smart? Or the mushroom level-based portcullis traps? Yeah, I really, really loved level 1 and 2.

Conclusion:

Editing is top-notch on a formal and rules-language level; as far as formatting is concerned, the pdf does sport some inconsistencies. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard and I really liked the interior artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The cartography is serviceable, but not spectacular. The absence of player-friendly maps is a comfort detriment.

So yeah, blame Matthew Finch, the author of this adventure. You see, unlike many folks that are active in the OSR-scene, I loved my old-school gaming back in the day…but frankly, there was, and this is something plenty of folks forget, a lot of crap back then as well.

There was a reason so many folks stopped buying the old books.

Not all was shiny and better. (Go ahead and call for pitchforks…)

Hence, I wholeheartedly embraced Necromancer Games, and later, Frog God Games, in their mission of providing new old-school gaming materials. I confess to having never heard about Matthew Finch when I backed the Rappan Athuk kickstarter back in the day – and I got that elusive Cyclopean Deeps bonus level. I read it and was HOOKED. When the Cyclopean Deeps hardcovers finally hit sites, I drooled all over them – I still consider them to be absolute masterpieces, regardless of system.

So yeah, that did lead me to investigate the author, to this adventure – and I sat on it for quite a while. It was the first time I really started digging regarding OSR-books. So yeah, blame Matt Finch’s excellent writing.

When one of my patreons asked me to review this series, I figured I’d begin at the start, and there we are. So, how do the pod-caverns fare nowadays, when the blend of classic and weirdness has become accepted, cherished and its own style? Surprisingly well, actually. While the module does suffer from some comfort-detriments and formatting inconsistencies, we can see a style of writing here that cites the classics without being just a knockoff – this is creative and manages to evoke a sense of consistency that draws you in – more efficiently than many modules with thrice the page-count, mind you.

Now, content-wise, I consider the first two levels to be excellent examples of stellar adventure-writing; the third level, in comparison, feels a bit like an aftertaste and a gimmick, added on to the complex without tying into it as well – it’s still good, mind you – just not outstanding. Personally, I’d run levels 1 and 2, using level 3 perhaps as its own dungeon-hook for the proper complex. That being said, level 1 and 2 warrant getting the book on their own. At the same time, the hiccups and lack of player-friendly maps do drag this down a bit – which is why my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #1: The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom
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One Shot Core Rules
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/24/2018 02:09:30

It wasn't what I was hoping for, but hey, it was free.

The description calls One Shot "a role-playing system designed for single session gaming." I didn't need to see yet another rules-light RPG system. I was more interested in its focus on single-session gaming. I was hoping to get some great insights and cool ideas on one-shots.

The 15-page document consists of 1 cover page, 5 pages on the game system, and 9 pages on a sample adventure.

The game system is yet another rules-light generic RPG system. There's nothing new there.

The 9-page sample adventure seems like way too much material for a single-session game, especially since it's "presented for only a single character." It's loaded to the gills with background material on the people, places, and history - way overkill. My eyes kept glazing over as I tried to read the walls of text. That wouldn't do in a single-session game.

What about the main thing I was after - tips on single-session gaming? Hardly anything.

If you skim the headings in the rules, not a single one of them makes any explicit reference to single-session gaming. You have to wade through the game system text to hunt for it.

The single-session advice comes down to not taking the long view. Yup, that much is obvious - no need to worry about session #2 if there won't be one.

But there's more to single-session gaming than not worrying about session #2. What about tips for engaging the characters from the start when, by definition, they have no history with their own characters, the NPCs, or the game world? (Reading pages of background isn't engaging.) What about guidelines on making the material modular so you can expand or compress depending on what the players do? How about some guidance on how to teach the players the rules quickly? What about techniques to keep the pacing crisp instead of (for example) letting one non-climactic battle chew up half of the available time? What about techniques to make sure you've got a rollicking good ending that's neither too early nor too late, that flows well with whatever choices the players have made, and that gives them a satisfactory resolution to the adventure? Are there any tips for finding a nice single-session balance that avoids excessive railroading (no decisions for the players) and excessive sandboxing (nothing in particular to do)?

None of that is present, but that's what I was hoping to see in a system designed for single-session gaming.

In short, I was disappointed. The rules system is light, but otherwise it does very little to aid single-session gaming.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
One Shot Core Rules
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