When I got to read the first couple of AaW-modules, I wasn't too impressed - little did I know how fast the crew would evolve and improve - vastly! Today, I'll take a look at the first two modules that made me realize that these guys have potential!
This pdf is 30 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving a total of 27 pages of content, so let's check this out!
This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players might wish to jump to the conclusion.
Still here? All right! After having braved the burial mound of the Loi'Tok in Champion's Rest, the PCs are recruited to take a look at a logger's camp - not in the deadly Dark Woods, btw., but in the more hospitable west wood. Unfortunately, though, the Klavekian logging enterprise there also has some problems - the loggers have been warned by eerie winds and now the PCs are to look into the matter. On their way across the snow-covered fields, the characters are harassed by a pixie and her harmless shenanigans (via a new spell, btw.) and potentially annoyed, they finally reach the logging camp, only to be accosted by rather hostile, grumpy, soaked and unfriendly loggers who want to take up their work again. Hopefully, the PCs can calm down the rather unpleasant men and then be on their way to find out what the scoop is all about - possibly with an unfriendly, cocky lumberjack as an added liability and complication. It should also be noted that a whole page of hand-drawings details logging equipment to help the players and DM envision the equipment. Neat!
At a clearing, the PCs get a good glimpse on the repercussions of the logging operation - the ceaseless logging has actually destroyed a swath of the forest and made a pond a place of death, inhabited by one last diseased scrag, now hungry due to lack of food and rather aggressive. The desolation of this place, contrasted with the abundant wildlife and beauty of other parts of the pdf makes for a great way to drive home that the issues between the factions here are not simple. The great Hamadryad, a huge tree flanked by 6 lesser fey-trees provides the PCs with an ultimatum: Leave the forest, take the loggers with them or die.
If they complete 3 quests, she's willing to talk further to them. The first quest has the PCs travel to a local tribe of Kobolds to acquire pickled fish. Only, the kobolds are starving and have resorted to killing a man and have actually eaten him. Whether the PCs manage to find the fish-bones and save the bones of the dead townsman, with or without violence, they're off to the next place. In the pixie-village the PCs have to find, they are caught and tickle-tortured by the small benevolent fey, for they are losing their magical powers and don't know why. And finally, the PCs are supposed to find a brownie-village. Here, the module becomes downright depressing and provides a vision of desolation - the tiny village has been crushed by the logs and redirected flow of water to transport the lumber. Now, only 3 confused undead brownies remain, to potentially fight the PCs or be laid to rest and carried to the great hamadryad.
Upon their return, the negotiations are re-opened, but without the 6 lesser dryads at the ready. It is here that the PCs will have to make a weighty decision: Do they negotiate with the wood's guardian and get the lumber for the village and then have them evacuate the woods? Do they attack the guardian? There are also the lumberjack and a pixie as additional complicating factors to take into account...and then there's the fact that here, there are no right choices, only consequences for both this part of the world and the PCs. If they heed the ancient Hamadryad, they preserve the sanctity of the forest, but at the cost of unemployed loggers and a stifled growth of the Klavekian colony. If the PCs kill the guardian, they will have secured work and growth for the Klavekians, but the wood will slowly die and whither to give way to a desolate wasteland. And violence by the dryads, who stand ready to attack the camp and the angry lumberjacks who may have followed the PCs is also a real possibility. I love this non-linear climax with real consequences and without any clear-cut good and evil solutions and the option to come to a solution which in the long way, prove to be a good compromise for both factions.
Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect: There e.g. are instances of homophone errors here and there (fair/fare, for example). Layout adheres to a full color, two column standard and the artworks are ok. The pdf comes with extensive bookmarks, herolab support, but not a printer-friendly version. Generally, I did enjoy "Forest for the Trees" in that it takes a classic conflict of nature vs. civilization, shows how the conflict can influence those involved without pointing fingers and provides the PCs with a chance to make a real difference. While not per se a perfect adventure or a revolutionary one, I did enjoy reading this adventure - the writing is excellent. All in all, I did enjoy the adventure, though the price is a bit high for the page-count when compared to similar modules by other 3pps. If you like Rybalka, you'll love this first option to make a major decision and influence the future of the mini-setting and while I did very much enjoy this decision and the way in which the adventure handles its topics, I have to take into account that the module is light on art when compared to other, is not that long for the price and comes with rather sparse maps when compared to FGG, TPK Games or the Headless Hydra-modules and in direct comparison, feels a bit short. My final verdict can thus be "only" 3.5 stars, which however, I'll gladly round up to 4.
This pdf is 24 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving 21 pages of content for this adventure, so let's take a look!
This being an adventure review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion!
Still here? All right! The annual Winterflower Dance and Festival is upon Rybalka and emotions and hormons run high: The beautiful maiden Gwendolyn has many a suitor, and three men, Nicoli Vrodle, Alem Dulgra and Vladimir Pelchonal vie for her hand with increasingly heroic quests - which, of course, the PCs can assist. Whether they assist one, two or all of the quests, they're in for a challenge: Nicoli wants them to acquire a broach from a capsized Vikmordere ship, which is unfortunately near the location of the last adventure, "Forest for the Trees" - depending on the outcome, the PCs may have an interesting first look at the consequences of their actions as they make their way to a stranded ship. The PCs may meet a scouting party of Vikmordere on the way and when they reach the ship (with its beautiful map, unfortunately with numbers), they will have to brave the undead that now inhabit the frozen shipwreck. They might even salvage a cannon from the ship - IF they succeed in getting its massive bulk back to Rybalka, that is.
Unfortunately, poor Nicoli's advances fall on deaf ears and Alem is next: Quite popular and wealthy, this unscrupulous man deals in illicit narcotics and want to secure a rare dwarven gem, Alexandrite, to effectively buy Gwendolyn's heart. He might also prove to be a way for the PCs to get back to good graces with Rybalka after choosing the "Path of the Druid" in "Forest for the Trees". In order to reach the entry to the secret subterranean dwarven holds, the PCs will have to brave kobold traps and succeed at a kind of sliding puzzle (WITH a hint, this time), which comes with actual ways to find the solution without brute-forcing it - GREAT! In order to get the gem, though, the PCs will first have to get some cave-moss from a grick-infested cave. Once this task is complete as well, they may return to Rybalka, only to realize that Alem might not be a good choice for Gwendolyn - he might even be harassing her.
The strikingly handsome Vladimir has perhaps the most romantic of the three ideas - he wants to bring the Winterflower to Gwendolyn to ask for her heart - reminiscent of the tradition in the alps to bring the Edelweiß to one's beloved, I did consider this idea in particular to be awesome. Especially with the map and location: The flower only grows on the mountain known as "Solitary Giant", a huge thing of ice and basalt, circled by a vast snow roc. To make matters worse, the weather is taking a turn for the worse as well. Climbing the solitary giant will have the PCs brave potential avalanches and other obstacles to have an awesome climax: Fending off against the snow roc while being tied to the wall. the creature is not overtly hostile and easily confused and the objective is not victory, but survival. Hopefully, the PCs can keep brave Vladimir alive.
Upon their return, though, Gwendolyn may spurn Vladimir as well to follow her own choice and heart unless the PCs intervene on behalf of the brave man. Whether or not for the better, the PCs have helped a romance by showing what can and cannot be achieved by bravery, money and suaveness and thus ends the adventure and concludes the festival. Which I would have loved to see being described in the module, but oh well.
Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect - I did notice some minor glitches, though not many or glitches that impeded my understanding or enjoyment of the text. Layout adheres to Adventureaweek.com's 2-column standard with its colored background. No printer-friendly version is included in the deal, though herolab-files are. The cartography, as I've come to expect from adventureaweek.com, is stellar, though I'd love for player-friendly maps sans the numbers etc. or a similar file of collated handouts as e.g. Run Amok Games provides. The pdf comes with extensive bookmarks. Of all the adventures in and around Rybalka I've read so far, Winter Flower is perhaps the most unconventional. A sense of personal involvement can be just as enticing as the promise of epic loot and the module provides an intriguing backdrop and interesting motivations for the players. The climactic climbing of a mountain is one of the coolest environmental showdowns I've read in any PFRPG adventure and feels truly unique. I do have some complaints, though: In direct comparison to other modules by adventureaweek.com and other publishers, "Winter Flower" is a bit on the short side for the price - TPK Games' "Ship of Fools", for example, provides about twice the content and multiple full-color maps for a slightly higher price. Additionally, the festival that is an integral component of the module's background gets no description or the like. Its rites and dances could have made for a cool end and a way to convey more of the unique cultures and customs of the setting/settlement. It is due to these two gripes, especially the bang-for-buck-ratio, that I'll settle for a final verdict of 4.5 stars.
Thanks for reading, as always!