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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.

RPGNow.com

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.