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Advanced Adventures #17: The Frozen Wave Satsuma
von Thilo G. [Häufiger Rezensent] Hinzugefügt am: 01/23/2019 02:55:57

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 patreon-supporters.

All right, so this module does have a bit of a culture-clash vibe, in that it taps into some Oriental Adventures-style content, but fret not – the material within can be slotted into pretty much any quasi-early-modern-period gaming. If you’re not familiar with some terms employed within, a brief glossary has you covered. As always for the series, the module is penned with the OSRIC rules-set in mind, but can be translated to most OSR games with relative ease. Similarly, as has become tradition for the series, formatting conventions do deviate from the standards set by OSRIC, but are pretty concise in these instances.

The module contains 5 new magic items – one that allows a horse to move through underbrush and not be tracked, a figurine, and two ice-themed items that help mitigate the environmental challenges faced within. The most interesting item presented would be a harp that can lock listeners ina loop of their last actions. The new monsters aren’t particularly interesting as far as I’m concerned. Two are provided, an ice-squid and a sahuagin-variant with tentacles for legs. The latter is, somewhat unfortunately named “Krabben”, which is the German plural for crabs. They have nothing to do with either meaning here. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

The complex to be explored within is fully mapped in b/w, but no player-friendly iteration is provided. The adventure is intended for a group of level 3 – 5 characters, though it should be noted that the players should behave in a smart manner – otherwise, they may encounter something that may well see them wiped out. Apart from a brief section of introductory prose, the module has no read-aloud text.

In order to discuss the adventure in more detail, I will need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. … .. . All right, only GMs around? Great! So, when an oriental magic-user turned bonkers, things took a rather uncommon turn: The magic-user turned north, supporter by his ogre-mage and ice-elven buddies, and managed to secure the eyes of frost men, using them in a rite to craft a ginormous junk (the ship!) from ice itself – the eponymous Frozen Wave Satsuma. Recruiting the notoriously nasty wako (basically pirates), he set sail to plunder the realms of barbarians (i.e. Westerners, i.e. the realms of your players), just as the magics that hold the vessel together continuously chip away at his mental state. It’s been a few weeks since the alien vessel has started haunting the coastal regions, and it’ll be up to the PCs are trouble-solvers to stop the raids that set forth from the unearthly ship once and for all.

As far as premises are concerned, this is already better than a ton of modules out there, and the ship of ice, with its frigid temperatures, icy mists and slippery surface makes it clear that the complex is just as much the enemy as the foes faced. The global effects of the dungeon help to constantly remind the players in which type of weird ship they will find themselves. Lighting conditions etc., the need for footwear and the like – all is concisely presented, including taking tracking etc. into account – and that is important, for the module has a timer of sorts. When the PCs assault the Frozen Wave Satsuma, a seriously massive raiding party is currently…well…raiding! They will return sooner or later, and if the PCs have by then not made sure that they have a valid plan to deal with them, they will find themselves overwhelmed.

The good thing here is that the terrain and “dungeon” offer plenty of ways for clever players to deal with this issue: You see, the ship is VAST, cavernous, and actually pretty dangerous. The deeper holds and decks are infused with darksome magics, generating an almost palpable sense of foreboding, one that is contrasted in interesting ways by small tidbits like noting that a character is a master of rhino-karate. The hostile NPCs/commanders present also feel alive – curious players that play their cards right may find out a lot about the power-dynamics, relationships etc. of the characters on board, which could well yield the edge they need to survive if things go wrong. Or, well, they can also try to murder-hobo everybody…but considering that there is e.g. a level 8 samurai on board, this may be a tougher call than what you’d imagine.

The PCs can free slaves, reclaim pillaged relics, and end the threat of the Satsuma, they can free e.g. a snow leopard to attempt to get the beast to deal with the overwhelming force of wako; they can attempt to use the creepy (and deadly) haunt-like effects inside to shake off pursuers…there is but one thing that felt like an utterly unnecessary addition here, and that would be the partially flooded lowest level, where the Krabben, including the ice-squid lurk. Their presence doesn’t make that much sense and feels like a late addition that dilutes the focus of the module a bit. On the plus-side, if you don’t mind their inclusion, they can act as a good further adventure hook – not that the module would have required it.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good, if not perfect –a pronunciation guide for the glossary would have been nice and I noticed a few instances of spell-references etc. not formatted correctly. Layout adheres to the no-frills classic 2-column b/w-standard of the series, and the pdf sports a few pieces of solid b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The lack of player-friendly versions of the b/w-maps is a comfort-detriment.

Joseph Browning and Andrew Hind joining forces on this one was a good call indeed. “The Frozen Wave Satsuma” may be a short module, but it actually manages to capture the spirit of old-school modules, the nostalgia these types of adventure aim for WITHOUT being derivative. This is a huge plus in my book. The interesting complex, combined with the design-aesthetics highlighted throughout the module, ultimately makes this feel like a lost classic. It recaptures that ephemeral flavor AND manages to be novel and interesting. Is it perfect? Nope. I’d have loved to see more detailed tactics, perhaps means for PCs to hijack the vessel…

But honestly? This module has entertained me more in its 13 pages than many modules of twice that length. It is easily one of the best installments in the series, and one that I’d definitely recommend checking out. This managed to capture my imagination, and really achieves attaining the goal that this series of adventures has – to provide new modules that feel like classics. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars…and while the formal criteria-hiccups would usually prevent me from doing so, this one really captured my imagination, which is why it also receives my seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



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Advanced Adventures #16: Under Shattered Mountain
von Thilo G. [Häufiger Rezensent] Hinzugefügt am: 01/14/2019 10:13:14

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

So, as always for the Advanced Adventures-series, this module is intended for OSRIC-rules, but adaption to another OSR rule-set is very much possible. Nominally intended for 5 – 8 characters level 9 – 12, the adventure is very modular and represents more of a sandboxy backdrop than a unified narrative, and it should be noted that, difficulty-level wise, the adventure ranks in the upper echelon. There are a few encounters herein that are very dangerous and that will potentially destroy careless or unlucky players. These are not always telegraphed that well in advance, so an old-school mindset that can deal with character-death is very much recommended. On the definite plus-side, it should be mentioned that the more intelligent adversaries do get tactics that set them apart and help the GM render them appropriately dangerous, making them stand out a bit more than they’d otherwise would.

As far as supplemental materials are concerned, we get 4 new monsters – a pretty deadly toadstool critter, cavern crows that can be driven into a frenzy by the scent of blood, the lightning devil, and a unique devil are provided, all with appropriate stats. As far as adversaries are concerned, some beloved classics can be encountered, and a few of them are surprising – but I’ll get into that below.

The pdf does contain two new magic user spells: At 3rd level, we have Hestler’s Verbal Disruptor, which generates a white noise style acoustic-dead zone, is an interesting one. Black Embrace, a 7th level spell, booby-traps a corpse, which will embrace the living, draining their life-force. Cool visuals there.4 magic items are included as well, with experience and GP values noted properly. One of them, a flask that can be used to poison targets or be harmless, is nice, though here, a deviation from OSRIC’s default assumption of save-or-die for poisons would have imho made sense from a design perspective. A cooldown or countdown of sorts would have certainly made falling prey to that item less frustrating. One of the items is cursed, and honestly, it may actually be fairer than this one. A bloodsucking dagger (with rather nice mechanics) and a rod are also part of the deal here.

Now, before we go into SPOILER-territory, let’s briefly talk about how this is set apart from most modules: Shattered Mountain is vast, and as such, it contains miles upon miles of tunnels that lead from a) to b) – in a way, it is reminiscent of a wilderness crawls inside a mountain, limited by the claustrophobic tunnels. This structure allows and encourages insertion of your own adventure modules and scenarios and characterizes this firmly as more of a backdrop than a primary narrative. This is also further emphasized by the random encounters table, which is pretty hefty and feels down to earth enough.

In fact, the lion’s share of the adventure is taken up by a variety of not necessarily connected encounters, each of which comes with its own functional little map. These are NOT aligned in a linear manner, which, once more, represents a big plus as far as I’m concerned. On a downside, the respective areas (10 of which are provided) are designated with letters: “Area F”, for example. However, on the respective maps, we have starting positions of dynamic adversaries, for example, also denoted by letters. When you look are the map of “Area B” and read “A, B, C”, you can’t help but feel that this choice of labeling wasn’t too wise. Using Roman or Arabic numbers, glyphs, whatever, would have been more comfortable for the GM in these cases.

Beyond these encounters, there is a more conventional 2-level mini-dungeon included here… But in order to discuss more of the details of this adventure, I will have to go into SPOILER-territory. From here on out, I strongly urge potential players to skip ahead to the conclusion to avoid SPOLERS. … .. . All right, only GMs around? Great! So, among the encounters, we have, among other things, a slightly loopy fungal druid (including the series’ by now traditional deviations from OSRIC’s formatting conventions), a tribe of troglodytes, aforementioned cavern crows in conjunction and cohabitation with gargoyles, trolls, earth elementals, stone giants – the aesthetics here seem to be deliberately close to what you’d expect from a classic AD&D adventure – whether you consider that to be a bug or a feature depends on your own tastes. For the most part, I have to admit to being not exactly blown away by them, as the terrain simply doesn’t matter as much as it probably should. Compared to the fantastic “Stonesky Delve”, the caverns under shattered mountain feel quite a bit more sterile. I did mention that this module can be really deadly, and perhaps unfairly so. This claim primarily stems from one of the encounters, which springs not one, but two very old red dragons on the PCs – once they pass a certain threshold, they’ll be blasted by not one, but two breath weapons. No, the dragons are not hostile to another; they work together.

While it is “realistic” in a way that going down the wrong tunnel may get you killed, I did not consider this one to be particularly fair or enjoyable. There is no foreshadowing here, and I’d strongly advise GMs to seed some warning signs for the players. Otherwise, this is pretty much one of the bad “Lol, you die”-type of old-school encounters that doesn’t earn its lethality.

More fair, if certainly no less deadly, would be aforementioned mini-dungeon: Sheth, aforementioned unique devil, has his own little complex that spans a total of 21 keyed locations. This mini-dungeon is a hackfest in the purest sense, and if you’re looking for some good ole’ murder hobo-ing, this’ll do, perfectly. From the gorgon guardians to a lamia to twin rooms housing no less than 6 (!!) stone golems in total, this complex is brutal. Said lamia has btw. high-level adventurers and a trolls charmed, making the encounter function somewhat akin to handling rival adventurers. We even find nilbogs here, and as a whole, this dungeon is deadly, but cool – there is for example a really cool trap, where a collective of screaming magic mouths may render the PCs unconscious. While this can TPK a group, mundane means to offset the trap (as well as magical brute-forcing) are viable tactics, making this a cool example of a trap that has more than one step, and one that rewards player skill over PC luck. I really liked that one. Sheth and his cohorts are similarly a challenging and cool final encounter. Here is a lost chance, though – the lightning devils and the pool featured in the final encounter don’t really interact, and as cool as some of the trap/hazard-related aspects of the complex are, they don’t extend to actual interaction with the creatures, which makes them feel a bit more sterile than they’d otherwise seem.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good of a formal level, though there are deviations from OSRIC’s formatting conventions. On a rules-language level, I’d consider this to be precise and well-crafted. Layout adheres to the two-column b/w-standard of the series, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf features no interior artwork beyond the editorial page, and cartography in b/w is functional and solid. However, no player-friendly, unlabeled versions have been provided.

James C. Boney can write really, really cool dungeons. The author gets the theme and tropes of classic fantasy really well, and I am particularly enjoying the tactics of his adversaries, as well as the creative and fair traps that his modules mostly seem to feature. At the same time, I couldn’t help but being somewhat unimpressed by this offering.

I love the notion of Shattered Mountain. The crawling through labyrinthine, lengthy tunnels is something I really love. Heck, I’ve written more than one book devoted to the theme of subterranean gaming. That being said, this feels, whether by design or by lack of inspiration, somewhat cookie-cutter in what the encounters offer. They are pretty segregated from one another, and theme-wise, there is no encounter within that I couldn’t have improvised on my own. On the plus-side, the mini-dungeon makes for a rather enjoyable hackfest – I can see that one work great for a fun convention game, for example. If you’re looking for a hard, but fun hackfest, the mini-dungeon included certainly delivers.

Still, this module has the somewhat unfortunate timing of having been released after “Stonesky Delve”, which not only offers a more alive, terrain-wise interesting adventure with verticality, nooks and crannies to explore, etc. – it also offers much more bang for your buck. This is by no means a bad adventure or hub/backdrop, but it also could have been much more. If “vanilla” AD&D flavor is what you’re looking for, then this delivers – if not, then you’ll be better off with “Stonesky Delve” or similar adventures. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



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Advanced Adventures #14: The Verdant Vault of Malakum
von Thilo G. [Häufiger Rezensent] Hinzugefügt am: 12/18/2018 10:18:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at only 9 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, ½ a page of SRD, leaving us with 6.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look.

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

As always, this Advanced Adventures-module uses the OSRIC rule-set, but can be theoretically converted easily to other rule-sets. The adventure is designated as suitable for levels 8 – 10 and works best with a well-rounded party and…Pffff BUAHAHAHA … …I can’t do that. I just can’t. The Verdant Vault of Malakum’s brevity is a plus. No, I am not going to dignify this with a SPOILER-warning. Damn. I just did that, didn't I? No one should attempt to play this. From the get-go, we realize what we have actually bought here: The vault is 3 miles away from the settlement…and then, the module continues to talk about how slowly the PCs can get through the jungle, noting that they can only cover 4 miles per day. … Notice something? We get a list of random encounter monsters (nothing interesting here), and that’s not all. In the jungle, turning undead is penalized. Why? Because the jungle is EEEVUHLL. … The entrance to the vault of the erstwhile despot Malakum is a stone head, flanked by basaltic columns. These are ropers concealed by illusions and surprise 5 times in 6. Means to detect? Nope. This dickishness is just a taste of the things to come. In the vault, we have -6 to turning undead. And every 3rd and 7th of the 60 steps down into the dungeon is trapped. Tedious, even for super-methodical groups? Yes. Not telegraphed? Yes. Boring and bad design? Heck yes. If the PCs stumble into them, the slide will dump them in a pool of slimes that all hit automatically. Oh joy. That’s harmless as far as this module is concerned.

Know these “great” modules that do NOT account for PC capability, instead neutering them or forcing them to basically guess what the author wants them to do? You know, the author’s extended middle finger à la “EFF your rules, you will do this as I intended or die horribly?” Yeah, well, we have the like herein. A lot of it. There is a room that is basically an elemental maelstrom: There are quasi-Egyptian hieroglyphs here (included as visual representations) that represent the 4 elements, and that the PCs must hit to cancel the respective elemental pain. (Magic-users will not survive here.) Oh, and how this trap works is utterly obtuse in its wording. I had to read it 3 times. The few monsters herein don’t really have a strong leitmotif. Babau, a shambling mound and yellow musk zombies. No creeper. There is one interesting hazard/creature synergy, a venus man-trap that combines violet fungus rot and deadly bites – but the formatting is weird here. Why isn’t this listed like a creature? You know, like the fungi? And no, they can’t avoid damage or properly bypass this or any other one, even if the players get/guess how a trap or hazard works.

This is something to bear in mind: The Verdant Vault of Malakum is a thoroughly linear dungeon. There is no way to bypass any room within. Remember that.

So, the boss, Malakum, is a greater mummy, the rooms wizard lock and slam shut all the time...blablabla. Nothing you wouldn’t expect from the author at this point. If you expected a plant-dungeon: Nope. There are a few plant monsters, but the dungeon per se does not have any semblance of a proper leitmotif or cultural identity. Oh, and there is this nice trap in the beginning. Where (black) tentacles spawn from the walls. If 4 hit you (save vs. spell, fyi), they tear you apart. Death. No save. Because that totally is how being hit with multiple tentacles works in any (A)D&D-related game I know. Each PC is targeted by 4 of them. Per round.

Ah, and there is an obtuse relief-based puzzle and the utterly baffling “Path of Stars.” This room has a black floor, 30 ft. below. Motes of light dance on it. Touching the floor…is instant death, no save. If you really strain, you can hear the author’s ethereal whispers of “EFFF You.” That’s how this whole room reads like. And yes, for funsies, if you touch the white motes of stars, you…die; if you touch the black void, you….BINGO, also die, no save. Sounds legit.

You know, because it’s a piece of the night sky, transplanted here. No, this is not telegraphed in any way. Just getting started. The PCs can activate platforms that levitate down, which flip over in a 1-second rhythm. One side is safe (oddly, the white one…you know, white like the motes that kill you, no save, when touching the equivalent on floor below), while the other evaporates you if you fail a -4 save vs. spell. Of COURSE, you can’t teleport or fly here. That’d be actually…you know…use of resources. Not even CLEVER use of resources, mind you, but damn cookie-cutter adventuring…but using that would contradict the author’s utterly baffling and random fiat, so this module raises a middle finger to your players. Play like dumb drones and walk into the unavoidable traps. You know, like you’re in a bad computer game.

Thought that this isn’t so bad? Okay, do you know how you cross it? Dexterity check at -3 to jump ON AND to jump OFF. Depending on how you read the crappy, imprecise wording, you either arrive at 9 (!!) or 18 (!!!) consecutive Dexterity checks at a “-3 penalty”. Okay…isn’t that supposed to be a +3 penalty? You know, because of roll under as a default? Never mind that OSRIC’s rules explicitly state that such things should not necessarily require skill-like checks… I swear to any deity, imagined or real, that may or may not exist, that I am NOT making this stuff up. That’s actually what’s in this module. An excerpt. Of the mercifully short adventure. Told you that this being so short was a good thing. And before you ask: No, you can’t turn off the whole thing. Just sending the thief across won’t save the other characters.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting on a formal level are good. On a rules-language level, this is a mess. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has no interior artwork apart from the glyphs. The map is functional and b/w, and no player-friendly (MUAHAHA – the only way these words will ever find their way into a review of this adventure) map has been provided.

Alphonso Warden’s “The Verdant Vault of Malakum” is an unmitigated mess. I try, very hard, to see the positive in all supplements I review. Heck, I derived some sense of fun from his messy, but somewhat inspired “Lost Pyramid of Imhotep” meatgrinder. I do try.

The nicest thing I can say about this one, though, is that reading it didn’t waste much of my time, as it’s shorter and slightly less boring than the atrocious “Prison of Meneptah.”

This adventure has not seen any contact with realities at the table, with actual players. It feels like a product of a frustrated author, who has read, but never actually played the game AND who has no idea how game design, math, rules language, etc. work. There is NOTHING to salvage here.

How crappy is this? Even if you guess the author’s fiat correctly and somehow manage to correctly determine the arbitrary limitations imposed on PC capabilities, even if you basically hand out the module’s text and have your PCs run through it, they’ll STILL DIE, unless they are ridiculously lucky.

You can check. The math, thankfully, is not that hard to check for OSR-games. It is painfully obvious that no one even bothered trying to check the basics here.

This module’s “challenge” is just about dumb luck.

There is no skill on the side of either the PCs or the player’s side involved.

This feels like the spiteful AND phoned-in response of someone who read “Tomb of Horrors” or Grimtooth supplements and thought “Well, this is dumb – skill can actually avoid some of these ridiculously lethal death traps! Oh, I know, I can replace that with requiring dumb luck! Ha! That will most assuredly make gamers happy! ‘Cause, you know, that’s what makes roleplaying so cool, right?”

This is worse than a permadeath videogame with sucky RNG.

I can’t imagine that ANY group out there finished this adventure without copious amounts of GM handwaving, redesigns and/or vast death tolls. This is a horrible, sloppy mess.

I am genuinely sorry for the paper that I used to print this adventure’s few pages. And I printed the pages on both sides. That makes 5 sheets of paper wasted on this module. As I close this review, I am deleting this adventure. It’s not worth the space on my hard drive. I try to end on a positive side. Thanks to the adventure’s brevity, only 5 sheets of paper were wasted. And these will now go where they belong. In the trash bin, hopefully to be recycled into something more meaningful than this. Like tissues. Final verdict: 1 star.

Endzeitgeist out.



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Advanced Adventures #15: Stonesky Delve
von Thilo G. [Häufiger Rezensent] Hinzugefügt am: 12/03/2018 04:31:03

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures series clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, first of all, this is, as all Advanced Adventures-modules, written for the OSRIC system, but conversions to other OSR-systems are easy enough. The formatting deviates in some aspects from OSRIC’s formatting conversions. This module is intended for characters level 4 – 7, though it should be noted that it requires a smart and well-rounded group to excel – this is old-school in that PCs not smart enough to run in some instances, will indeed die. Horribly, I might add. The pdf does not sport read-aloud text beyond the brief introductory prose, which means that this needs to be properly prepared.

There is another special thing to note here: “Stonesky Delve” is the first tournament module in the series, and as such, it spends quite a lot of space to explain how to run and judge the performance of the adventuring groups. One page is devoted to the time scoring sheet, one to the exploration scoring sheet, and two pages contain a total of 10 pregens. While I applaud the inclusion of so many pregens, it’s annoying that you have to basically copy their stats by hand. The equipment of all characters are on the back of the page.

Now, the tournament framework means that the module is intended to be run in two 4-hour slots; in-game, the PCs get a cave moth pupa that will hatch in 72 hours, for the PCs have to spend at least 72 hours in-game exploring the complex…and a maximum of 120 hours. So yeah, we have a time-limit here, which is smart, as it adds a degree of urgency to the proceedings. Indeed, the framework is simple: The PCs are hired by dwarves to explore and map caverns where ancient dwarven holds may be found. This is also the reason I don’t mind the lack of player-friendly maps here – it is, after all, the task of PCs to map this place. It should be noted that, unlike most convention/tournament modules, this may be hard, but it’s NOT just a meatgrinder! This, if anything, behaves more like a ROLEplaying module than all previously-released installments in the series. It should also be noted that the module can easily be sliced in two, should you desire to do so.

The pdf sports a couple of unique/variant monsters – an umber hulk variation, a predator with a massive tongue that works best in conjunction with piercers (cool!), a three-tongued giant frog, a spitting gibbering mouther variant, and the classic vampire moss also gets stats. These feel down to earth and somewhat plausible. Solid.

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

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, one glance on the map will show you what sets the first aspect of the module apart from many others: the first dungeon of the module represents an exploration of the caves of the eponymous Stonesky, but unlike countless modules out there, this complex manages to really evoke a sense of plausible fantasy spelunking. This is, in part due to the clever positioning of enemies, which are chosen and placed in order to evoke a sensible illusion of a subterranean eco-system; at the same time, the complex is set apart by its focus on verticality: When you’re rappelling down a massive tunnel next to a waterfall, and try to get down in the middle of the place to avoid being eaten by cave morays, you’ll know what I mean. The complex comes with a side-view and a top-down map of this area to help you picture the complex.

This sense of fantastic spelunking is absolutely amazing and enjoyable, and, more importantly, it rewards the exploration that is part of the central story angle: Thorough players can, for example, find a well-hidden cavern where the echoes of a dwarven deity’s words resound. This secret is rewarded well regarding scoring, and is but one aspect of the adventure. Aforementioned waterfall? Curious PCs that brave the tunnel can find a leaking decanter of endless water as the source, as well as the remains of a being. This commitment to details and player agenda over rolling the dice is evident in many details: Smart PCs can avoid combats and hazards, and exploration is thoroughly rewarded, and blends the plausible quasi-realism of spelunking with the wonderful magical sprinklings that made the best of the AD&D modules of old stand out. Danger and rewards are closely entwined, and player-skill trumps dice rolling.

PCs can accidentally flood passages with slightly acidic water, and from cramped spaces to vast differences in height, the cave complex is absolutely fantastic: In one cavern, the PCs may happen upon the resting place of Radivither the Breaker, a dwarf of the first generation, he who discovered theft, death, insanity and murder – a mighty impulse and spirit, he is not a combat encounter: Instead, Radivither acts as a kind of haunt/possessing, malignant entity – but encountering this deadly echo can also provide a great boon to the dwarves that hired the PCs. This commitment to focusing on player- as opposed to PC-agenda also can be found in the tunnel that allows the PCs to make their way to the second part of the module: To get there, the PCs have to pass a magical means that prevents access, seemingly preventing progress. The means to bypass this magic is to walk the corridor backwards. Really cool!

Part II of the adventure, the Hold of Dwergma, is a more conventional dungeon without the verticality of the cavern complex that preceded this place; the complex comes with a sewer system that clever PCs can (and should) use – for there is a mighty (and insane) cleric/magic-user here, one who can and will annihilate careless PCs if they do not take care…particularly since the fellow actually gets a detailed tactics breakdown. The PCs can encounter an animated stone fist with flawed intruder detection; hallucinatory tobacco, ancient tomes of lore (noted with title, weight and gp-value), a grue-like thing and a flail snail – the inhabitants are well chosen, the complex is smart and flavorful, and e.g. traps are telegraphed in a fair manner. That being said, this second part does not reach the amazing creativity of the first part of the module, feeling more like a classic denouement to the potentially fantastic things that you can encounter in the first half.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a rules-language level; on a formal level, the pdf has a couple more typo-level glitches than usual for the series. Layout adheres to the classic two-column b/w-standard of the series, and we get a couple of solid b/w-artworks. The cartography is b/w and solid, and the existence of a side-view map of part I of the module is a plus. Due to the presence of the PCs-do-cartography-angle, I won’t complain about the lack of player-friendly maps. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Joseph Browning delivers pure old-school goodness in this module. Stonesky delve feels fantastic and plausible, evocative and dangerous, and remains, in spite of its harsh challenges, FAIR. This adventure rewards skillful players over good rolls of the bones, presents a great blend of strange flora and fauna and truly fantastic, hazard-laden caverns. The presence of consequences left and right, the constant rewarding of clever play, and the smart diversity of challenges faced all blend together to make the first part of this module downright amazing. Part II of the module falls a bit short of the fantastic wonder evoked by the first half on the adventure. The presentation of the helpful pregens is not exactly perfect, though. Still, as a whole, this most assuredly makes for one of the best adventures in the series – at least among those that I’ve covered so far. The first part is fantastic and warrants getting this adventure on its own; the second part, while not as strong, is still a good adventure. As a whole, one can consider this to be a great old-school module, well worth checking out, and as such, this receives a final verdict of 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



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Advanced Adventures #38: White Dragon Run II
von Thilo G. [Häufiger Rezensent] Hinzugefügt am: 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.



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Advanced Adventures #38: White Dragon Run II
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Advanced Adventures #13: White Dragon Run
von Thilo G. [Häufiger Rezensent] Hinzugefügt am: 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.



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Advanced Adventures #13: White Dragon Run
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Advanced Adventures #12: The Barrow Mound of Gravemoor
von Thilo G. [Häufiger Rezensent] Hinzugefügt am: 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.



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Advanced Adventures #11: The Conqueror Worm
von Thilo G. [Häufiger Rezensent] Hinzugefügt am: 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.



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Advanced Adventures #10: The Lost Keys of Solitude
von Thilo G. [Häufiger Rezensent] Hinzugefügt am: 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.



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Advanced Adventures #10: The Lost Keys of Solitude
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Advanced Adventures #9: The Lost Pyramid of Imhoptep
von Thilo G. [Häufiger Rezensent] Hinzugefügt am: 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.

..

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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.



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Advanced Adventures #9: The Lost Pyramid of Imhoptep
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Advanced Adventures #8: The Seven Shrines of Nav'k-Qar
von Thilo G. [Häufiger Rezensent] Hinzugefügt am: 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.

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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.



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Advanced Adventures #7: The Sarcophagus Legion
von Thilo G. [Häufiger Rezensent] Hinzugefügt am: 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.

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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.



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Advanced Adventures #6: The Chasm of the Damned
von Thilo G. [Häufiger Rezensent] Hinzugefügt am: 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.



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Advanced Adventures #5: The Flaming Footprints of Jilanth
von Thilo G. [Häufiger Rezensent] Hinzugefügt am: 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.



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Advanced Adventures #4: Prison of Meneptah
von Thilo G. [Häufiger Rezensent] Hinzugefügt am: 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.



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