Posted on Leave a comment

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.

RPGNow.com

 

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

Forest for the Trees & Winterflower

 

Hej everybody!

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!

 

Forest for the Trees

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.

 

 

Conclusion:

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.

 

Winter Flower

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.

 

 

Conclusion:

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!

Endzeitgeist out.