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B9: Curse of the Full Moon

B9 – Curse of the Full Moon

b9

This module is 60 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, elaving us with 57 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

All right, still here? The PCs, via several different hooks, are coming to the town of Rooknest, a peaceful, isolated town – in which all hell is about to break loose due to an ancient, nefarious plan coming to fruition. More than a decade agao, a wicked hag called Harriot was starting to dread the approach of her final years and her biological clock started ticking its malevolent hum. Being a hag, her only means of reproduction did not fit particularly well with her utterly wicked character and so the weird dreams she had, were quickly heeded: Whispers and dreams spoke of a despicable rite worthy of a hag, including the consumption of the father of the creature to be spawned. True to the formula of fairy-tales, the first two mates were consumed and deemed unfit, granting the hag nevertheless the power to add capabilities of the consumed to the child she conceived from the third father – a child destined to become a hellween, a hybrid werewolf whose very presence is a bane on the land, thinning the boundaries between material and spirit world. What the entity, whose vile whispers spurred the hag onwards didn’t account for is a fraction of maternal instinct, a glimmer of true love between the hag and the wicked werewolf that conceived the child – to give her doomed daughter a chance at a life she could never provide, old Harriot dropped her in the nearby town, sulking back into her swampy domain.

She has been waiting and watching ever since, while the almost forgotten, wicked fertility goddess waited in the wings for her chosen champion to come of full age. When the poor girl turned into a full-blown hellween, she crashed from the temple and fled town, managing not to kill anyone while being guarded by her ghostly father. The curse of her existence and the dark goddesses vile whispers have taken root in Rooknest, though and will keep the PCs rather busy:

The local drunk insists that the “big wolf” is real and while asking him, the PCs will be surprised to see that among the xenophobic, tight-mouthed villagers, some disguised zombies have started drinking in the tavern and gathering outside, making the erupting combat a first glimpse at what’s wrong. The overall module is organized very much like a sandbox of tragedies – from here on, multiple ways are provided for the PCs to conduct their investigation and several stories await their discovery:

There is for example the gravedigger, who, urged by the dark goddesses’ whispers, killed his wife who was unable to bear him children – her ghost now haunts his perpetually gravedigging shovel and laying her to rest may point the PCs towards another component of the puzzle – Harriot has killed the mayor of the town and his family and now shadows the PCs, disguised as him, while the mayor’s revenant is trying to escape his barred mausoleum. Putting said undead to rest and hunting down Harriot is one way to the climax, but just one:

The secretive monks who are researching the transformation of one of their children also know bits and pieces about what is up with the “big wolf”, as does the local smith – if they can get either talking and save the monks from animated suits of armor (which are called skeletons in the text – minor oversight since they use modified skeleton-stats). The local bakery is now haunted by an attic whisperer of a recently-deceased child and throughout the village, the PCs may encounter weird fetishes constructed by an ancient crone, an erstwhile priestess of the wicked goddess that seeks to protect her home.

Via all these small tragedies and encounters, the PCs may pierce together the truth and when they finally slay Harriot, the climax should prove to be interesting: From her blood, a portal to the demiplane-temple of the dark goddess arises and inside, they have the chance to save the sould of the hellween if they soemhow manage to negotiate with her father, not fall to the onslaught of summoned dretches and finally, vanquish the dread exploding-pumpkin-throwing avatar of the goddess that seeks to claim what is “hers”.

The pdf also includes 3 maps and their player-friendly versions.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, while not bad, are also not perfect – I noticed multiple occasions of jumbled letters, aforementioned minor discrepancy regarding the skeletons etc. Nothing serious, mind you, but enough to slightly detract from the module. Layout adheres to AaW’s 2-column standard and the module comes in 2 versions, one of whihc is backgroundless and printer-friendly. The b/w-artworks are neat, especially the one of the BbEG. The cartography is excellent, as we’ve come to expect by now from AaW. The module comes with herolab-support, though as per the writing of this review, the file has not yet been made available.

This module is interesting in that it’s something we don’t get too often – a sandbox investigation with multiple ways to succeed. It’s also essentially a mix of almost ALL themes associated with horror-adventures – only vampires are missing. Zombies, ghosts, twisted undead, human tragedies, ancient rituals, a curse and an ancient, almost Shub-Niggurath-like entity -all is in here and makes sense. The amount of weirdness going on is one of the good things for the module, since it makes determining what this is all about harder for the PCs and they will actually have to WORK to understand what is going on and use their grey matter. Nice. On the other hand, the themes and respective encounters also make the module feel slightly cluttered with information – the component tragedies are interesting and would have made good investigations in their own right if there was more going on in town, if there were more places to visit and pieces of information to glean.  In fact, the one thing I’d consider a flaw of this module is that its final presentation, while good, is not up to its potential. This could be a massively awesome horror-themed megamodule  -with about 160 pages, investigations for all component-scenes, each contributing one piece of the big puzzle, this could have been one of the most fitting halloween-modules ever. As provided, it’s a very good sandbox-investigation with some cool scenes that you definitely won’t regret purchasing – especially if you’re willing to do some GM-work and enhance/complicate the component-scenes. Due to the minor glitches and the fact that this would have worked better in a larger scale or as a 2-parter, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 4 stars and a recommendation for GMs looking for some horror-themed bits and pieces to insert in their own modules or willing to expand the per se neat investigation.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

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C4: The Play’s the Thing

C4: The Play’s the Thing

c4

This module is 59 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 56 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

All right, still here? Good! Naytella is a goddess of relaxed, pleasure-driven life and one of her adherents, a man named Teatteri is finally settling down, has managed to ingratiate himself within the town of Bankside. Unbeknownst to most, their secret allegiance to the goddess made them clash with conservative authorities before and in order to secure permission to create the theatre, they have allied themselves with doppelgangers seeking the goddesses capability to provide joy and revelry.

Said shapeshifters have since replaced parts of the council and flyers that are charmed do their part in securing the steady flow of audience members to the theatre – after all, the goal is to convert a whole town to the worship of Naytella! The powerful men and women of the town may act as hooks for the PCs and the doppelgangers as foils, presenting us with a concise depiction of their agendas, ways to use them etc., providing a nice framework to set up a complex, smart investigation before entering the (still) closed theatre, where a gamut of theater-themed, clever traps await enterprising PCs.

Before they can reach the cellar of the building, they will also have to best the first group of NPCs. First group? Yes! A total of 4 different NPC-groups are part of the module, each coming with essentially “party-sheets” that include all the necessary pieces of information to run the parties on one page – supremely comfortable for the DM – I approve!

Now the cellar and dungeon below are interesting and highly chaotic in theme, including skulls chanting a litany that confuses the listeners (without deadly effects – the results are hilarious, after all, the servants of Naytella are chaotic and not evil!). The tactics of the servants of Naytella mostly reflect that as well – if the PCs get beaten, it’s not necessarily their end. Now, when they find the intoxicated council alive and well, the PCs will have a tough decision at their hands – free the council? Join the adherents of Naytella? Help them escape the wrath of the citizenry? The options are there and the result up to your players.

It should be noted that the module also includes clothing-material golems as well as 4 pages of maps of the complex, both in a keyed and a keyless version.

The pdf also features the new companion of Naytella PrC, which grants d6, 6+Int skills per level, comes with a wide variety of potential means of entry, good ref and will-saves, 3/4 BAB-progression. The Companions gain the option to use multiple skills (like sleight of hand) at range, their cha-bonus to saves and even a sonic-based breath weapon and attribute boosts. They may also choose from 6 special abilities at 8th level. Solid PrC.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting have already been done better by AaW – I noticed a couple of minor glitches like a zero for an o etc. – nothing too hampering, though. Layout adheres to the backgroundless 2-column standard and the module’s 4 maps in full color are neat indeed. The bookmarks are glitchy, though, missing the bookmarks for the first section of the module. Herolab files have not yet been added as per the writing of this review, but will be part of the deal as soon as they are done.

Make the primary antagonists Calistraeans or extremists of Cayden and this module will work perfectly in Golarion. The module’s antagonists for once not being evil is a cool change of pace, as it makes the PCs ponder their own moral choices and honestly, the sheets to track the NPC-groups are extremely useful to run what would otherwise be very complex encounters. Kudos for the good idea! The location in which it is set as well as the (potential, but mostly optional) investigative backdrop in the beginning adds also a nice touch. Stephen Yeardley has crafted a neat module indeed and overall, I did enjoy reading these pages. The amount of content provided is also appropriate and overall, the module is a fun, thankfully different romp. The issues with the glitches and bookmarks do keep me from rating this higher than my final verdict, though, which will clock in at a solid 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

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B11: The Fall of House Rodow

Today I’ll take a look at a 1st level module,

B11 – The Fall of House Rodow

b11

This module is 40 pages long, 1 page front cover, 4 blank pages, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 32 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

 

All right, still here?  House Rodow, a mercantile noble house has seen better days – bad investments had the family fortunes bleed out and the situation escalated – to the point where the family decided to once again summon the demon that made it possible for them to gain their prominence. The problem is, though, that a competing noble family got wind of this and sent off an agent to deal with the summoning, interrupt it and gather evidence. Unfortunately, said agent failed to specify the details of what was to happen to the Rodows.

 

Thus, the PCs, as soon as they arrive at Rostow Manor, they’ll see that a raging fire has recently burned the manor – exploring the house, which is in danger of collapsing, should yield some interesting hints – a lot of sample DCs make investigating what went down feasible. After the  Pcs have eliminated 4 wild dogs in the manor gardens, one Pinion Merino with his security, arrives in his carriage and hires the PCs to bring justice to the unknown perpetrators. Tracking the perpetrators into the wood, the PCs will have to deal with orcs before arriving at the home of the culprits – caves of a tribe of mites – where the PCs may also find out that the mites were coerced into the attack on the Rodows. The Mites are not stupid (though not particularly competent) and have among other things, a ballista ready to fire at the PCs…

 

Now if the PCs manage to defeat the mites, there will be an interesting map with a red x – the x denoting the secret location of the Rodow family’s crypt – which Pinion concedes and tells them about the trouble of the Rodow family. Exploring the tomb turns out to be rather tricky – the door is animated and quite some traps litter the locale. Sealed in the tomb, the players find 4 bandits, ready to thank the PCs for their release with death as well as the devil the Rodows dealt with. It turns out that the competing merchant family’s agent was behind the downfall of House Rodow – and the PCs have a choice to make: Support the slaughter of a house of devil-worshipping nobles or bringing justice to a not particularly bright agent of a corrupt house of merchants. However they decide, the PCs will have to bring one culprit to justice – or, well, just walk away.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect – I noticed some minor glitches and the 4 blank pages are slightly annoying when printing out the module. Layout adheres to AaW’s 2-column, parchment background-style and the pdf has no bookmarks, which is a mayor downside. The stock art is thematically fitting and the cartography of the two locations (but not the manor) is as awesome as I’ve come to expect from AaW.

Author Haakon Sullivan’s module is an interesting short 1st level module with some challenging encounters, interesting DCs and choices to make – while not reinventing the wheel or blowing me out of the water, it features a permeating sense of decadence and corruption, which is nice to see. That being said, I couldn’t help myself feeling like the minor formal issues combined with the lack of a truly inventive idea make this not reach the echelons of excellence. While solid, the story has been done before and honestly, I would have loved to see a haunt here, or at least a slightly more terrain-invested showdown. In the end, I thus feel justified in rating this 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 due to, among aforementioned minor gripes, the glitches and the lack of a printer-friendly version.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

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B10: White Worm of Weston

B10: White Worm of Weston

White Worm

This module is 49 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 44 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This being a review of an adventure, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

 

Still here? All right!

Nine Generations ago, Vykter West founded a place called Weston – right in the middle of nowhere, a desolate land. Nine Generations ago, the progenitor of the West family entered a deal with the lower planes and lo! and behold, the rich river Meere changed its course and Weston prospered – all for a ridiculous price. Viktor would only need to put a tiny white worm into his field? Where’s the harm in that? What goes around, comes around, though – it was the worm that changed the river’s course, grown to monstrous proportions and ever since, worm-slayer upon worm-slayer, adventuring group upon adventuring group, has fed the ravenous appetite of the worm, which return to consume the West family. Unaware of the curse their ancestor wrought, the family has lived under the shadow of the titanic beasts eventual awakening from its hibernation. Fast forward to the recent heir of the West name, one Errod West, forced to watch the worm devour his parents at a young age and subsequently driven by an obsession of slaying the beast, finally unearthed hints of Weston’s dark past. The PCs are contacted by distant relatives via a letter and made aware of the sizable bounty – 50K in gold are nothing to scoff at – a fortune even! When a man dies on the road to Weston, trying to warn them away, it will become clear that the PCs have not a mean feat ahead of them…

Weston itself, as a town, is firmly in the grip of fear and panic at the worm’s proximity and first rumors of the cursed West family surface. After visiting the mayor to confirm the bounty, the PCs may have a talk with the only known survivor among the wannabe worm-hunters – a dwarf named Hamlin Hammerhalder currently resting at the Happy Fool tavern and while he is a tough nut to crack, capable PCs may get him to talk about the dread combat that led to the death of his companions. Tracking the vast traces of the worm’s wake, the Pcs get a chance to save a dwarven couple from a bulette and rescue an adventuring group from an unpleasant fate by falling into the churning waters of the river Meere and the waiting jaws of the local crocodile and ankheg population. In far over their heads, these adventurers proceed to leave the hunt of the worm to PCs, though they may help later in the module. The Worm is CR 21, has regeneration 30, DR 15/-, SR 45 and Immunity to spells and energy types. This is a fight the PCs cannot win. If your players are stubborn and refuse to retreat, though, then you’ll still have a good recourse – as a Deus Ex Machina to prevent TPK, as a means of escape or to acknowledge that they did the impossible and damaged the beast, Errod shows up and leads them to his mansion.

There, Errod offers to resurrect the fallen via his scroll(s) of true resurrection and proceeds to prepare a meal – the PCs in the meanwhile have ample leisure time to sniff around the house and stumble over the variety of clues and from Errod’s reaction, make deductions about his conflicted personality and gathering clues that he is not telling them everything. It is notable that clue-wise and regarding descriptions, the mansion is VERY well-detailed and offers a great change of pace that can, thanks to taxidermy-trophies, be easily played up to 11 on the tension-scale if you so chose. Together, they may piece together the clues from Errod’s documents and notes, but in the night, their endeavors are put to a hard test – a hit-squad of 8 babau demons infiltrates the house and starts a fire – the PCs, rousing from their sleep, will have to contend with the deadly demons and try to save the journal from the library while the house burns down around them -heat dangers, smoke inhalation, catching fire – all covered in a delightfully suspenseful action that consumes the house in only 20 rounds – a battle against the clock and the relentless assault of the flames.

Supernatural forces are moving  in and the players may wish to recover Vyktor’s journal from his body – only the crypt is also well-guarded by forces infernal -a vrock and even a glabrezu (who offers a wish if spared – but is it worth it?). Vanquishing these foes with Errod’s help, the PCs can unearth the journal, where a riddle (that should stump no one) conceals the name of the demon with whom Vyktor made the pact that resulted in the White Worm’s rampages. Armed with this name, the PCs may summon the demon, who has an offer for the worm’s end, but one that would cost the lives of Errod and all of Weston. A more likely outcome is that the PCs vanquish the demon, temporarily making the worm vulnerable – if they can manage to perform three rituals of atonement, each of which, while not cancelling, weakens the superb defenses of the worm. The rituals are no mean feat either – someone who has lost all will to fight must give away all earthly possessions until they are naked while holding a piece of the creature they seek to destroy. Hopefully the PCs managed to save that scale of the worm from the burning Weston manor… For teh second ritual, one must consume a draught of pure elven blood, essence of a fire creature and one’s own blood at the witching hour and bear the pain. The final ritual requires the tears of the cursed to be used to polish a diamond of 5K GP value or more with a brush made from halfling’s foot-hair, transforming the gem into a lump of coal. If the PCs saved the adventurers, they may now have at least a couple of the more esoteric ingredients ready.

The rituals completed, the final hunt is on – with its demonic master gone, the worm retreats to its primal shrine, leaving a wake of destruction in its wake, while fleeing from encounters that damage it too much. Catching the worm and finishing the beast, even with the help of the level 15 ranger Errod West, will require guile, luck and preparation. Thankfully, a timeline features the epic wake of the worm as well as weather etc. and should make for an interesting hunt of a prey most dangerous.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch this time around – I noticed no editing glitches. Layout adheres to the status of AaW’s 2-column full-color layout of A16, i.e. we get nice boxes, separated statblock sections for 3.5 and PFRPG-stats and I have nothing to complain – tidy, functional, nice. The pdf also comes with extensive bookmarks, beautiful cartography (though only of the manor, but that in both a DM- and Player’s map version) and a gorgeous letter-hand-out.

Drawing inspiration from literature, obviously Moby Dick and folklore (The legend of the Lambton Worm), this module has an ancient, gothic sense of foreboding only scarcely seen when handling unsubtle brutes like the titular force of nature of a monster. While personally, I would have preferred the extraplanar influence to be cut/not explained and instead making the events in the mansion/crypt and origin of the worm ambiguous, that’s a personal preference and will not impede my verdict of this pdf – if you do, though, you’ll have a closer analogue to Moby Dick’s fundamental question of whether revenge against an animal is possible at all as well as a great conduct to develop Errod’s growing obsession. I maintain that the module would have been better off that way and even more unique, but that may be me. That being said, this still is nagging at an extremely high level: Author Lance Kepner has created an awesome module with a unique atmosphere, an epic objective and details that is not only smart, but also fun to read. I also urge any DMs who run this to at least read the respective synopsizes of the inspirations it is base on –  they are awesome pieces of fiction and will definitely enrich your experience and that of your group while running this module.

This, if my praise was not ample clue, is one of the best modules that came out of Adventureaweek.com’s B-series so far, on par with B3 and B6 and perhaps even transcending them. A great module full of style, fluff and unique ideas, dripping a sense of wonder and occultism, this is well worth  5 stars plus seal of approval – congratulations to everyone involved.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

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A19: Saatman’s Empire III – Incandium’s Eruption

Today I’ll take a look at the third installment of Michael McCarthy’s adventure-arc of draconic destruction,

 

A19: Saatman’s Empire III – Incandium’s Eruption

incandium

The third installment of Michael McCarthy’s Saatman’s Empire adventure-arc is 66 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 60 pages of content – the longest module of the arc so far, so let’s take a look!

 

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

 

All right, still here? So far, the PCs have foiled two of the incursions of dragons into the territory of the Klavek Empire  – first by ending Midwinter’s cold snap in A16, then by vanquishing titanic Storm and thus ending the sabotage of naval trade. By now, the PCs will probably have realized that there’s something brewing, that some force engineers the draconic problems. Said force is the self-proclaimed heir to Saatman’s Empire and the goal is nothing but the utter destruction of the Klavek kingdom to recreate the draconic empire of old. One of the most central figures in this plot would be Incandium.

Incandium is essentially one of the key-players in Saatman’s gambit and when a dragon challenges the PCs in public to meet with Incandium and the Half-dragon (with membraneless wings of fire) offers them the choice to surrender or die. Not sure whether I like the angle where he comes personally, though: I’ll probably just send an illusion or something to ensure he doesn’t get killed off. Going alone off to kill the PCs when he has a neat array of allies/servants and a great fortress seems like a stupid move to me.

Now, Incandium’s base is no push-over: A volcano studded with tunnels at different heights: And the adversaries found will show that Incandium knows no mercy, not even for his brothers and sisters: The former now guard low levels of the tunnels and as minor dragons, still are challenging, though twisted by his experimentation. The latter await, at his command, other dragons to breed with – such is Incandium’s decree. But in order to even access this part of the volcano, the PCs will have to defeat a sliding block-puzzle – or bypass the puzzle via being nimble enough. Nice to see a puzzle! Another set of caverns contains a clan of harpies as well as the bones of Incandium’s mother, whom he slew due to his less than nice childhood.

The third set of caverns hosts Incandium’s kobolds and features an interesting feature: Traps. Too many of them – so many in fact, that they partially cannot be disarmed anymore and require those foolhardy or brave enough to walk them to weather the storm of assaults. Also, Incandium’s elite kobolds are nothing if not deadly, even without the extreme heat of the volcano. At the lip of the volcano, elemental guardians await and in the depths of the caves, hidden in the maze of tunnels and chapters, two suites of chambers might make for good locales to have Incandium make his final stand (for the module prescribes no location and assumes he perishes in the first encounter) – his set of private chambers (which includes the draconic father of fire, an elemental prince) and his lab includes more pieces of information to unearth his weird experimentations – and we get an extremely cool puzzle that has the players assemble a pyramid-shaped key that comes as a player’s handout with graphical representation. Damn cool!

Finally, by piecing together clues, groveling before the elemental lord or sheer chance, the PCs may find the true secret of the volcano: A temporal anomaly, currently in the process of being studied by no other than the blue dragon Saatman himself! After some bartering, he sends his elite mages of the Serpent Sanguis-cult at them and teleports away – his plans for harnessing the temporal anomaly to hasten the aging of dragons and create an army of old wyrms to squash the Klavekian Empire being sabotaged – but Saatman is far from finished!

The module also includes a write-up for a new spell, redirect teleport, a new magical item, 3 alchemical items, a write-up of a new deity, of the elemental lord (and gaining his favor or curse) as well as a short write-up (fluff-only, no organization stats/PrCs) of the Serpent Sanguis-cult.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch – I didn’t notice any glitches this time around. Layout adheres to AaW’s 2-column standard and the respective rules for skill-checks, puzzles etc. are now set before scrolls – nice to look at. In contrast to A18, no semi-transparent dragon in the background of the pages this time around. Personally, I prefer the scrolls to A18’s layout. The cartography (including hand-outs for the 2 puzzles) thankfully once again comes with player-friendly versions of the maps – especially the puzzles getting two thumbs up from me! The pdf is fully bookmarked and as per the writing of this review, the herolab files have not yet been provided. Not all is perfect regarding formal criteria: Each monster gets its own page in the statblock-appendix, which is nice, as you have the necessary stat ready. However, this also means that some of the pages (e.g. those with less complex stats) are half-empty: Lost space. Worse, the annoying dissolution of the separation between 3.5 and PFRPG-stats has been kept, meaning you’ll either print out all (and have stats for a system you don’t use) or pick the pages by hand, which sucks and is less comfortable than the organization by system AaW used before.

Incandium’s Eruption is longer than its predecessors and it shows: Where A16 and A18 suffered from what feels like cut-downs and a lack of space to develop their awesome locations, this one does the job – from intense heat, to caves laden with opium-fumes, there are quite a lot of hazards, environmental issues to complicate things and iconic locales. The breaking of formulaic structures where the boss is not waiting at the end is also an interesting decision. Add to that the neat puzzles and cool background story as well as inner-dungeon dynamics and we have by far the best installment of the campaign arc. In fact, my only gripe with this module remains the combat index and its impractical implications for the user, resulting in a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform. Author Michael McCarthy can do it, after all and I’m looking forward to reading the finale, hopefully full of neat environmental hazards and iconic locales as well!

Endzeitgeist out.

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A18: Saatman’s Empire II – Storm’s Wake

Here’s the runelord of evaluation (no delusions of grandeur, a fan came up with the name) with a review of the second part of Michael McCarthy’s adventure arc,

 

Saatman’s Empire II: Storm’s Wake

storm's wake

This module is 44 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 blank page, 2 pages advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 38 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This being an adventure-review, the following text contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

 

All right, still here? This is the second part of the Saatman’s Empire-adventure arc after A16, Midwinter’s Chill, in which a white dragon cast a frosty swath of destruction into the Klavek Empire. While not required to run this module, the metaplot also ties in with A16 and thus, groups playing multiple modules of the arc may start to see a pattern: The once glorious empire of Saatman seems to have an heir apparent and said dragon is gathering his kin to systematically dismantle the empire. The second part of the puzzle being the eponymous dragon Storm. Contend for as long as people remember to only pick of those ships that straggled in her territory, she has gone on to destroying a trade-route. When the PCs arrive at Cherr’s Landing (complete with settlement statistics), the once thriving coastal port is in a desolate, half-empty state.

 

In order to end the incursions, the PCs will have to charter a boat towards the island’s around the notorious Devil’s Point, where “there be dragons”. Instead of the culprit, abandoned warrens and a crippled, small dragon, actually Storm’s grandmother awaits. Once she has been dealt with (or bypassed) the trail will lead the PCs sooner or later to Shipwreck Cove, an island littered with shipwrecks picked up by Storm and smashed on the rocks. Now inhabited by Cecalia, slaves to her mate, the island is anything but empty and, among other things, also contains two kobold-heralds of Saatman’s heir, who are anything but push-overs with 12 levels.

 

Also nice: The Cacelia use the armament of the ships to their advantage: PCs may actually get shot by ballista-bolts! Also, a new being called a titanic globster (including the template) is part of the challenges here. In the end, the Pcs will have to attack Storm’s nest, where her mate, the brine dragon waits. Now his tactics are actually smart for once, keeping his distance and blasting PCs and, more importantly, fighting in the open sky, not some cramped cavern. Having an island full of minions also helps. Once he has been vanquished, the hoards stolen and the eggs of the pair either smashed or stolen, the PCs will probably be on their way home and think the module is completed.

They’re wrong. Storm, a titanic black dragon, will be VERY angry and her tactic to destroy the ship with the PCs on it is simple and brilliant: Take it, lift it into the air (about 200 ft.) and let it crash down for a nice TPK. PCs will have to be smart thinkers, fast in dealing damage and armed with hopefully enough utility magic. And hopefully, they’ve rested and deduced that the brine dragon was not big enough to wreck this destruction.

 

The module also features a new deity-write-up as well as two new magical items.

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Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout has been further streamlined, with the excellent cover (also featured as a gorgeous full-color 1-page-illustration in the pdf) being a shaded background on the pages – unobtrusive and nice, yet printer-friendly. I’m also a fan of the less stark boxes used for read-aloud text-boxes, skill-boxes etc. Where the layout FAILS in my opinion is with a particular decision: Usually, we had separate appendices for the combat stats of the respective characters and monsters featured in a given module – one for 3.5, one for Pathfinder. You just had to print out the stats you need. Instead of this separation by system, we now get the creatures in alphabetical order, with both stats. This means I have to waste toner/ink to print out stats for a system I don’t use when running the module, which SUCKS and is not particularly useful. I hope AaW will change back from this decision. Another thing I missed from this book was the player-friendly maps. All other AaW-modules usually feature player-friendly, key-less maps to print out for convenience – this one doesn’t which, again, is a bad decision I hope will not be continued. If that’s the price for the new layout, I’d rather have the old one back and I sincerely wish for the system-division statblocks and player maps to return/be added.

 

If all my reviews of modules by author Michael McCarthy have taught me one thing, then that he knows how to write locales dripping with iconic flavor. Unfortunately, also one of his weaknesses is present in “Storm’s Wake”, albeit not in as jarring a way as in “Midwinter’s Chill”. What good is a great, iconic backdrop when it doesn’t influence combat/skills etc.? It’s just that, a backdrop, when it could easily be used to make combat so much more exciting and unfortunately, that’s also true for this module: Yes, here and there are minor specialties like aforementioned ballista, but what about climbing in riggings of smashed ships? Sniping from crow’s nests? More complex tactics for the BbeGs and other creatures, terrain that actually influences combat in some meaningful way – if these two had been added, we’d have a legend of a module on our hands. Without them, the iconic locales lose some part of their magic and thus fascination. The lack of consequences of terrain/unique areas make the module more sterile than its 5-star-ideas would make you believe.

In fact, it feels like 10 to 20 pages have simply been cut from the module: The search for the culprit of the trade collapsing and location of the culprit is sketchy at best and feels like it could use an overview map of the islands/coast to help the DM portray the whole search. What is left of this section, especially the battle with the first “boss”, feel sketchy and cut down to a minimum and evoked the distinct feeling of SOMETHING being missing. I maintain that, with about 10 pages of additional content to properly flesh out, this module could rank among the finest – Some for the beginning, some for the main locale, some for the tactics of the antagonists, some for the BbeG’s tactics and there we go – one legend of a module. As written, as much as I hate to say it, “Storm’s Wake” falls short of what it could easily have been. Combined with the lack of printer-friendly maps its predecessor still had as well as with the user-unfriendly statblock-presentation with mixed systems, I arrive at a score that hurts me more than lower ones I’ve given: Due to the ideas and potential, I’ll settle for 3 stars, but only if you’re willing to develop the module further. If you want a go-play module, then this one is not what you’re looking for. For now, I’ll sink back and hope for a revision and the ability to rate this as high as its concept deserves.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

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EZG reviews A16: Midwinter’s Chill (Saatman’s Empire 1 of 4)

I’ve never made a secret out of the fact that I like grand plots and this is the first of an arc that should challenge your PCs indeed:

 

A16: Midwinter’s Chill

Midwinter's chill

This module is 44 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 39 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

 

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

 

All right, still here? A swathe  of supernatural cold is cutting through the regions of the Klavek Kingdom, courtesy of a mysterious force and the PCs are on route towards Whitespire Abbey. The isolated place has been all but been wiped out and is now home to  cultists and other cold-related beings – a few pages  missing from one tome as well as one portal to a demiplane are all the PCs will find clue-wise apart from a surprisingly eclectic array of cold-themed adversaries.

 

Taking the step through the portal, the PCs go on to explore  the Roots of Winter, floating frigid isles connected via fragile bridges, where a Marid, cold elementals, cold based undead spirits and finally, Ofas, the arctic minotaur druid and henchman to the true mastermind of the sudden cold snap, who guards a teleportation spire that leads to the disturbing fortress depicted on the cover.

 

The beautiful full-color artwork is evocative and sets the mood, for it turns out that in the arctic fortress, beyond her minions and reanimated undead father, Midwinter waits – a very old white dragon! Upon her defeat, the adventure is over – for now, for Midwinter was just the first in a series of draconic incursions masterminded by one seeking to resurrect the empire of Saatman.

 

The pdf also has one new massive teleportation spell, a write-up for a new god/religion, 3 magical items and a short 2-page appendix with information on hatching/training dragons.

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Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a  2-column-standard and the respective headers have a nice frost-covered tinge. The cover artwork is glorious and the pdf comes with full bookmarks. As per the writing of this review, Hero Lab-files are not yet part of the deal, but from whaqt I can glean, are planned. With teh layout revision, no more printer-friendly version is included, but honestly, it’s not absolutely required with a relatively printer-friendly layout.

 

Midwinter’s Chill is an interesting adventure in that it offers us extremely iconic, glorious locations – perhaps the biggest strength of author Michael McCarthy’s writing in any of his modules and the locations are provided with the gorgeous cartography we’ve come to expect from Todd Gamble. That out of the way, not all is well with Midwinter’s Chill: The locales are superbly cool backdrops that remain just that: Backdrops.I can’t, for the life of me, not fathom why aqrctic dangers, slippery bridges biting winds, blizzards that grant concealment and the like are not part of the module: At the very latest in the demiplane included, hostile environment used to the advantage by the inhabitants should not be considered optional, but compulsory. What use are rope-bridges suspended over an endless chasm of white cold when the PCs can’t fall down/ be pummeled down? Where are the sheets of ice? The same holds true for the iconic, cool final fortress:

With such a look, why can’t the BbeG of the module e.g. partially animate the fortress to attack PCs? Why is the fortress so short/relatively ill-defended? The latter could be explained by the PCs bypassing much of the defenses via their means of egress to the area, but still: While not as bad as in Icecrag Monastery, the module still feels like its BbeG spinning the wheels. A section on tactics and some nasty surprises would have gone a long way to make the BbeG feel more menacing.  But in contrast to the  lack of environmental peculiarities, this is in the case of this module, a minor weakness that can be neglected.

All in all, the module feels like its content has been trimmed down to the point where a couple of additional pages to provide a crunchy foundation to the awesome fluff would easily have been in the realm of possibility. The finale feels a bit abrupt as well and could use a slightly more expanded build-up, e.g. via braving multiple ice elementals in a blizzard, trekking through deadly frozen wastes, etc. to drive home the epic, iconic location in the end. In spite of the stellar locations, I thus can’t rate this module higher than 3 stars.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

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EZG reviews BASIC-2: A Frightful Time

I was always a weird kid. I preferred the villains to the heroes, rooted for Skeletor, not He-Man and always had a fascination with the macabre – Horror-stories in particular. When other kids enjoyed children’s storybooks, I was all in my parent’s ears to explain how exactly a pendulum works. You get the idea. Now what I’m trying to say is that as long something is not too creepy and keeps violence down, children may definitely enjoy creepy modules. Here’s one!

 

A Frightful Time

The latest adventure in AaW’s series for the beginner’s version of Pathfinder and direct sequel to “A Learning Time” is 28 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page featuring 12 cut-out full-color pawns/paper tokens of the adversaries/iconics, leaving us with  24 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

 

The pdf begins with a drop-dead gorgeous artwork and the foreword by author Kevin Mickelson, who explains what a sandboxy adventure is and how to run it.

 

After that, we’re right off into the module, so from here on, the SPOILERS reign. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

 

Still here? All right!  After braving the gauntlet in “A Learning Time”, our brave fledgling heroes are sent out into the world on a field trip – to be precise, to Hazelthorp, a nearby village (fully mapped in gorgeous detail in both a player and DM-version, btw.!) – Johan Proutt, mayor of the town of Hazelthorp scents trouble brewing – a local elf called Ladrid Howl has threatened to tear down the village for their lumbering efforts and the PCs are sent to the village to ensure that the harvest festival goes well. Of course, the players are fitted out by the academy with some neat tools to chose from.

 

Once the PCs carrv a Hazelthorp, they are greeted by good folk cheering them on and are free to explore the town – though they should definitely check out the Happy Pie Inn and taste the pumpkin-hazelnut pies for which the town is famous. Now the catch is that the regular townsfolk know nothing about the threat and the mayor would prefer it to keep it that way. The town’s sheriff and deputy are fully statted, as is the town’s priestess and the gardener: An uncommonly kind and gentle ogre who has managed to grow a pumpkin of over 50 pounds inhis patch, almost guaranteed to win a ribbon in the festival. Said Ogre also has a nice clue – perceptive PCs may notice the stings and, when prompted, the ogre shows them the corpses of the bees that stung him: Purplish-reddish insects touched by the lower planes!

 

In the evening, strange tings stat to happen – the PCs are called outside, just to see a man clutching a carved pumpkin on his stumble a few feet, turn rigid and then making a frantic dash away from the crowd – turns out that this is the first attack of a Curcubiter, a devious plant create by aforementioned infernal bees. Armed with a rather devastating charge attack, a hypnotic gaze, attacks with vines and bites as well as the ability to dominate bodies, these creepy creatures are no pushovers! Worse for the next hours, they keep coming for 1d4 in-game minutes, 1d4 of them per minute. Defending the villagers, organizing them, etc. should be quite a task – especially since burning the pumpkin-patch from which they originate would spell economic doom for the village and result in famine etc. Oh, and if the PCs gather all vilagers in one place, the cucubiters will do the same and gather for a massive 20-creature push vs. them!  total of 37 of the creatures are in the patch, with 17 coming in small groups and 20 attacking as mentioned en masse. Now keeping the townsfolk safe and defending them in diffent locales is rather complex, for each building can only hold so many and has defensive pros and cons to be weighed – very cool and ot something one sees often in modules. The only way this would have been better would be with maps of all the buildings, but that is budget-wise not viable and from the descriptions, a DM an (and should) draw some sketches.

 

As an additional edge, the PCs can create barriers via hazelnut-branches soaked in holy water vs. the botanic monstrosities. Speaking of a true botanic monstrosity – hopefully, the PCs have Barnaby the ogre with them – his huge prized pumpkin turns out to be the master of the lot, a vast deadly Cucubiter Max, supportable onyl by a body of the ogre’s size. With or without ogrish body, once the master and its smaller brethren have been vanquished, the town seems safe. Depending on whether they managed to hold up the bluff that they knew nothing about impending danger and depending on how many people the cucubiters manage to “steal”/kill, the PCs will get a final grade and on the way back, one final obstacle – the elf is none too plesed about the town’s survival and has it in for the PCs, staging an ambush (fully mapped, again with player and GM-maps) and making for the final foe to subdue or kill.

 

The pdf concludes with 4 iconics, fully statted and with full-color artworks as well as above-mentioned player maps and paper tokens/pawns.
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Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect: I noticed a couple of punctuation glitches and similar smaller orthographic issues, though nothing too severe. Layout adheres to AaW’s two-column parchment-background standard and as almost always in AaW-modules, the cartography is stellar. I’m not sure who among the artists is responsible for the artwork on the foreword-page, but it’s glorious – kudos! The pdf comes with full herolab-support and an additional, more printer-friendly, backgoundless version.

 

To say that I looked forward to reviewing this module would have been a lie – while I can see the appeal of the “Adventurer’s School”-background for a younger audience, personally, I loathe it. And I love horror. I honestly dreaded how this would develop into cheese. Well, surprisingly…it doesn’t! While the artworks for the primary antagonists are wonky and not something I’d show to my players, this module is actually very well-crafted. The “Hold the town”/”Protect the Innocents”-sandbox angle is expertly developed so that the DM has an easy time crafting the details on his/her particular version of the module’s progression. And what’s even better: With an absolute minimum of effort any DM worth his salt can eliminate the school-angle and replace it with his own…and potentially make this a very mature module.

 

The enemies per se are so alien that they can be played for laughs or for deadly seriousness or both – And if you really want to make this gory, just make the domination a more..permanent replacement. Oh, and make the final enemy perhaps a living host to the instigators o the whole going on. Et voilà – you have a really neat horror yarn that should have your players talking for quite a while!

 

That doesn’t mean that the module has to be used thusly – it just means that apart from its intended primary audience, it is iconic and versatile enough to be made a truly neat experience for adult players as well – and sparking the imagination, a versatility in uses, that’s one of the hallmarks of a great module. The only reason I am omitting my seal of approval for this great module is the fact that it unfortunately sports more editing glitches than usual for AaW and that I feel they could have been caught with another pass at editing. Nevertheless, congratulations to author Kevin Mickelson for a final verdict of 5 stars.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

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EZG reviews B7 – Beauty & Blood

Beauty & Blood

This adventure is 36 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page credits/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 33 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

 

Still here All right!

Iversdam is a prosperous, harmonious small village, the land of the nearby Silwood belonging to a beneficent druid who guides loggers and the village and ensures harmony between civilization and nature – until a nymph enters the Silwood, harms the druid and starts slaying villagers. After arriving in town (and potentially stocking up on cold iron weapons at the conveniently in town trader), they are quickly briefed by the druid and warned that another adventuring group went missing when checking for some mites. The PC’s task is set – find the group and the nymph and deal with her – preferably without killing her.

 

Easier said than done, though -Daphne has convinced some mountain wolves and a dire version to guard the forest and in order to go anywhere, the PC will have o pass them – by blade, wiles or animal empathy. Now in the forest the mites turn out to be rather capable adversaries with deadly traps, their verminous breed and so on – after shot while, the PCs will find their predecessors and an enraged grizzly bear, which proved to be the undoing of the luckless adventurers.

Hopefully, the PCs don’t dilly-dally, for the other two mites with their verminous mounts are in the process of torturing the dryad-ally of Oswald, while curing the skin of her sister. Finally reaching Oswald’s home, the PCs will have to brave another grizzly among the numerous beehives used by the druid to brew his favorite mead as well as a redcap, who drove the ursine mammals into such a frenzy. The lone survivor of the other adventuring group can also be found here – now, by her report (if they can get the drunken elven maid to talk) and by interacting with the surviving dryads, the PCs may find the location of the hidden grove where Daphne now lairs – guarded once again by a rather big pack of mountain wolves. Hopefully the PCs negotiate, for Daphne is no pushover either and curing the nymph will be quite a feat – possessed by a magical amulet that drives her paranoid, the PCs will have to be up to their game and make her helpful in order to get the amulet from her. So strong is the curse, though, that the nymph will try her best to regain it before 24 hours have elapsed and the curse is truly broken.

The adventure also provides stats for the dryad-skin material, mite weaponry and the cursed amulet as well as magical honey.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not top-notch – I noticed several minor glitches à la missing “h”s in the name Daphne etc. Layout adheres to AaW’s two-column standard with its parchment style background. Artworks are ok and cartography is awesome – the 3 maps also come as a player-friendly version to hand out, which is always neat. The pdf comes in two versions, one being printer-friendly and Herolab-files, though as per the writing of this review not yet done, will be provided for the module. Author Benjamin Medrano has created a nice little sidetrek module, which, while not special in its execution, has a certain charm, flows logically from encounter to encounter without feeling too railroady and should make for a neat session. It’s most distinct and perhaps coolest aspect is that many situations of the module can be solved by non-violent means and that the climax can be simply a rather tense negotiation in which failure on the PC’s behalf might mean that they are fed to the wolves – literally! All in all, Beauty & Blood has managed to cram a lot of nice ideas into the scant few pages of length and makes for a worthwhile module that is not yet outstanding. Nevertheless, congratulations to author Benjamin Medrano for a well-deserved final rating of 4 stars.

 

Endzeitgeist out.