How better than to delve into a series of reviews than with an epic trilogy? The Adventureaweek.com-crew has recently launched their first multiple module spanning epic, the Rise of the Drow and today, I'm going to take a look at Part 1!
This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players might wish to jump to the conclusion.
All right, still here? The underdark is boiling from the flames of war - Maelora of House Gullion (nice tribute to fellow reviewer KTFish7, I assume?) has taken control over the drow trade-hub of Holoth via an interesting coup d'état - allying herself with the alien Vidre and siphoning power from an artifact granted by these enigmatic, crystalline schemers, she indeed triumphed and funneled the souls of her captives through the artifact to gain immense power. Unbeknown to her, half of the souls have been funneled to the greedy clutches of the alien Vidre and sacrifices have started to become harder and harder to come by. Not one to be dictated what to do, the matron managed to sever the binding ties and arcane entwinements of the pact between her and the Vidre via the Spider-Goddess' help (we're looking at old-school drow here, obviously) for the promise of a conquest of the worlds above - the goddess has spoken and so it shall be done. The Vidre, meanwhile, prepare for war - their thirst for souls must be slaked.
Enter the PCs via a relative of Rybalka's blacksmith Quorron, a female named Miah, ambassador of Embla, a dwarven city that seeks to unite the denizens of the underdark to address the drow-problem. Time is of the essence, though, and the PCs will have to take a dangerous road into the underdark via the ruins of Krelgar keep (5 level-mini-dungeon, lavishly cartographed in a stunning full-color map) - and something is definitely amiss, indicated by the dimensionally shackled bralani the PCs encounter there. After encountering the first troupes of drow (thankfully only zombies), the PCs may be in for a surprise - if they can decipher a missive, they'll realize that the dark elves have planned a raid on the surface world. Even cooler: Drow Paper, Quills and Ink are described and they are anything but common - what about e.g. quills made from giant spider fangs? Neat! Nevertheless, the PCs should think about warning Rybalka - whether they do or not, the repercussions will be felt. However, the immediate threat, the boss of this dungeon, will prove to be a challenge - the disturbing drow mhorg Yul will prove to be a worthy challenge, no small thanks to his items and the new "Third eyes of fear" that lets the users blink.
The journey through the underdark, accompanied by a cool map as well as information on various types of gases and multiple encounters will also see the PCs encounter their first driders, a wizard of house Gullion and then culminate in a chance for them to disrupt a drow raid on a dwarven caravan and then finally arrive at the gates of Embla, where the second module of the trilogy will start.
The pdf also includes the Titanic Beastmaster PrC. The class gets d8, 2+Int skills per level, full BAB, good fort- and ref-saves and focuses on taming and training the larger monsters - no spell progression or the like and the requirements for the PrC are rather steep, making it an accomplishment to actually qualify for it while granting massive enhancements to the special companion granted by it.
On page 41, the statblock-index starts with an encounter table and takes up all space till page 117 to deliver all the stats for both D&D 3.5 and PFRPG. Unfortunately, the index is not bookmarked, which makes this vast section of the pdf harder to navigate than it should by any means.
The pdf closes with two player-friendly versions of the stellar maps.
Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect - I encountered some minor glitches, but none that severely impeded my enjoyment of the module. Layout adheres to AaW's full-color two-column standard and the cartography is simply awesome. I was also blown away by some of the artworks - the drow depicted mostly can stand up to the Paizo-level regarding the quality of the art. However, there are also some jarring full-color illustrations that feel somewhat shoehorned into the adventure, are of a lesser quality and detract from a unified look. I frankly would have preferred them to be left out. The pdf comes with a printer-friendly version and nested bookmarks. At the time of the writing of this review, Herolab-files have not yet been provided, but are planned.
"Rise of the Drow I" is an interesting module in that it builds up a sense of threat and consequences for the region of Rybalka and its surroundings and works well to set up not only the drow as a credible threat, but also to evoke a sense of grand changes afoot. The environmental effects and cultural details like the paper/ink etc. they use lends an added sense of credibility to the dark elves. It should be noted, though, that the drow of AaW seem to worship a certain spider-goddess and thus are different from the demon-worshipping drow of Golarion - I'm already curious how this worship interacts with a fabled origin that hearkens back to Norse mythology. All in all, this is a good module with already rather significant decisions to make, but judging the repercussions and consequences etc., for now, remains hard - I look forward to seeing how the sequels can implement these diverging paths. Content-wise, thus, there's not much to complain about. Add to that the jarring difference in quality between beautiful and rather hideous artworks and we have some factors that conspire to keep this module from the full 5 stars. Thus, my final verdict will be a solid 4 stars with your humble reviewer looking forward to seeing how the saga continues.
All right, as always: Thank you for reading my ramblings - and see you soon in part 2!