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Wild Thing & When the Ship Goes Down

 

Today I’m going to take a look at AaW’s only (so far) A-series adventure that does not take place in the frontier-town of Rybalka:

 

Wild Thing

 

This module is 62 pages long,  1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page advertisement, we are left with a total of 57 pages, so let’s check this one out!

 

This pdf is the first of Adventureaweek.com‘s modules that does not take place in the wintry peninsula that contains the settlement of Rybalka and instead begins in the city of Cherrian’s Rest, which is loyal to the Black Gold Consortium at the border of a vast swamp. Thus, we are first introduced to the city and its surrounding, swampy area as well as diseases, infestations, complex rules for bug bites and even a rather large table for environmental and meteorological circumstances, assigning random encounters to the respective conditions. And yes, black gold is essentially oil…

 

That out of the way, the following text contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion!

 

Still here? All right! The PCs are hired to find a missing boat called the “Wasp” and especially the beautiful maiden and chief negotiator Sandalia, who’s been aboard. In order to navigate the swamp, the PCs will have to charter one of 3 vessels, all of which come with their own respective stats. It should be mentioned, though, that these vessels use a simplified abstract rule-set, not Paizo’s naval combat rules. What’s quite cool is the introduction of swamp points: Depending on the vessel and the captain’s skill, the PCs may spend swamp points to avoid random encounters. While abstract, this simple mechanic adds a tad bit of tactic to the exploration and serves as a nice justification for the DM to spring some unpleasant encounters in the way of the PCs. After checking the ship’s last known whereabouts, the PCs will have to track the missing ship, only to find a shipwreck and the gruesome reminders of the attack that cost the lives of most crew-men. After that, unfortunately for them, it’s time for some exploration, sand-box style: The PCs may, via logical thinking, find an abandoned camp-site on one of the islands and there encounter an empty potion bottle that once contained a variation of a philtre of love – the plot thickens.

 

A more gruesome encounter with an undead family in an old cabin may also provide for rather disturbing encounter at the island of traveler’s rest, but sooner or later, the PCs will have to brave the Fire Fields: Here, highly volatile, flammable gas erupts  from the ground and being from the elemental plane of fire roam free. Finally, the Big Rock hearkens and after an exhausting climb, the PCs will find a cave. Unfortunately for them, the inhabitants have prepared themselves: the approach of them cavern is riddled with traps and especially the zigzagging way down the side of a cliff will provide for an interesting challenge against the bog troll Nimbit and the girl who loves him. The missing Sandalia, alchemically manipulated by drinking the potion of true love the PCs may or may have not found, are actually happy and have prepared this gauntlet to get rid of his brothers, who don’t look kindly upon the budding, unlikely romance of the two. The finale thus may have the PCs not only fighting Nimbit’s brothers, but also make an interesting decision: Whether to wed the strange couple or kill Nimbit and drag the screaming Sandalia back to civilization.

 

The pdf also comes with new magical items, full stats for the creatures featured in the module in 3.5 and PFRPG-stats and THANKFULLY again player-friendly maps, which omit traps! Hell yeah! Especially the map of the area surrounding Cherrian’s Rest without any letters is awesome: Give it to the players and have them explore! This should be the standard for such wilderness sections.

DriveThruRPG.com

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect: I did notice some minor glitches. Layout adheres to Adventureaweek.com’s two-column standard and the pdf comes with an extra version sans backgrounds. The pdf is fully bookmarked and provides hero-lab files as well. The maps are of the high standard I’ve come to expect from AaW, while the cartoonish artworks left me cold – my PCs probably won’t get to see them. This adventure is interesting to say the least: While a more detailed look/map of Cherrian’s Rest would have been nice, that’s only the starting point of the module and this one actually delivers something interesting: The mini-game with the swamp-ships/skiffs makes for a neat idea and adds a bit of depths to the exploration of the swamp.

The sandboxy formula makes adding encounters easy and journeying through the Fire Fields will definitely be a memorable experience. Seeing the hints spread throughout the module come together, we’re in for an interesting take of the “Beauty and the Beast”-trope that has more than one resolution and thankfully does not dissolve into a simple good/evil-conflict, but a question of ethics, emotion and  the subjectivity of free will. Or you could just kill everything. The zigzagging escape down a cliff makes for an at first somewhat hard to grasp, but interesting showdown. So, what’s my final verdict, then? For the low price of $5.00, you get quite a bit bang for your buck and the module once again provides some interesting, uncommon situation and mechanics. In contrast to “Icecrag Monastery”, we thankfully get original environmental factors, neat ideas like the bug-sting/bite-system etc. to drive home how unpleasant the swamp can truly be. Thus, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 4.5 stars due to the minor glitches and none-too-great artwork and round down for the purpose of this platform – Wild Thing was an enjoyable experience and can be considered to rank among the best of the AaW-modules so far.

 

And I’m going to introduce you to one of my favorite modules by AaW so far:

 

When the Ship Goes Down

This pdf is 78 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/front cover, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving a total of 74 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.

 

All right! Still here? The weather around Rybalka has not been the best and that is an understatement of epic proportions. When the seasoned captain Duglig Merimies (identified via a captain’s token – a cool piece of culture that is also represented via a neat artwork) is found adrift in the seas, his tongue missing, dead and tied to crates, something is obviously amiss and it’s up to the PCs to find out what happened and accompany  captain Ertaran Honamatrus. After an extensive research-section (nice),  there unfortunately are some problems – Huriendor, obviously upset about the PCs (by now probably accomplished heroes in and around Rybalka) leaving and has gathered a mob to keep their precious heroes – thus we are introduced to the first cool bit of crunch in this module – a crowd-control tug of war between the sailors and the Rybalkan locals, both groups of which want the PCs. That is, the Pcs are not facing a straight-forward combat, but rather a complex, yet easy to run and ultimately more or less harmless and fun encounter, which may nevertheless turn easily ugly, making this perhaps the best introductory scenes in the whole line of adventures and making it rather easy for the DM to make his PCs encounter the results of their actions from prior adventures.

 

The journey per se will be a kind of paper chase aboard the vessel and feature elementals, a potentially friendly ice roc that may clear up what has happened and even an ice-water Elasmosaurus. And then, they reach the island that is the location of the adventure. AaW does it again. Turns out that the strange weather phenomena are the result of an artifact, the Troposheroscope: Housing a shard of the sun (see also the latest Pathways e-zine…), the device was utilized and kept in the care of a storm giant’s floating island. Unfortunately, said keeper has died in a maintenance accident of the device, which has promptly turned haywire. Worse yet, the floating island’s keel has been torn off by a collision with a cliff, flipping the whole floating island upside down. Yes. The PCs will have to explore a floating, upside down fortress of a storm giant above a lake. Now if that’s not awesome, what is? Even better,  the top of the structure is guarded by multiple traps that belong to the good category – they can be observed and worked around, much like good puzzles. The location also gets neat artworks and the fortress itself is plain awesome – magical horns, a devious trap (paralysis, gelatinous cubes, force cages – ouch!) including a respective warning, mobs of mephits, a library (including 3 sample, rather interesting  books) and one of the funniest ways to die, impaled by giant cutlery, are part of the deal. Have I mentioned the electro-hydra and the showdown against 2 young blue dragons (tundra is also a kind of desert, after all)  that comes with hoards as well as a selection of tactics? And after the PCs have braved this section of the island, they still have to navigate the upside-down caverns (with side-view map) and stop the malfunctioning artifact and defeat the now undead former keeper of the weather-control device while solving the puzzle on how to disable the artifact and avoiding its deadly blasts. Ladies and gentlemen – THIS is a climax worthy of the name! Iconic, challenging, with both a cool location, an interesting adversary and even a puzzle strewn in, this is an awesome final battle… that may see essentially a kind of magical equivalent of an atomic bomb in the hands of the PCs to determine whom to give the artifact or keep it themselves. I know that my players would try to keep it, if only to give new credence to the phrase “blaze of glory” – removing the lead from the shard, they’d look at a whopping 444 points of damage – some forces are not for mortals to tamper with…

 

26 pages are taken up by the full stats of the creatures encountered herein, both for PFRPG and 3.5. We also get player-friendly versions of all maps in the module, and a map of Rybalka and a typical Rybalkan house.

DriveThruRPG.com

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any significant glitches that would have impeded my enjoyment. Layout adheres to the Pre-B2-two-column layout and the maps, as I’ve come to expect by AaW, are top-notch. The artworks are ok. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, and while the player handout bookmark doesn’t work, it’s nested bookmarks do work – no harm done. The pdf comes with a second, printer-friendly version. At the time of me writing this review, Herolab files have not yet been added, but I’m positive they will. This module is AaW at their best – an awesome, iconic location, a cool mini-game, internal consistency, cool effects and a climax that deserves the name and provides us with an excellent set of cool effects. The only potential gripe a DM should be aware of is that the Pcs may very well end this adventure with a powerful weapon of destruction that they may use as a last resort – at the cost of all their lives. However, this is easily remedied by making it impossible to dismantle said tool. Let me say it again: This one of the modules that is not only good, it is excellent, fun and exciting and your players will enjoy exploring the cool location. My final verdict for this one will be 5 stars + endzeitgeist seal of approval.

 

As always, thank you for reading my ramblings!

Endzeitgeist out.

 

 

 

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Rogue Wizard & Icecrag Monastery

 

Hej everybody,

 

today I’m going to take a look at one of the best modules Adventureaweek.com has released so far and at also one of the worst! Let’s first check out how great a module they can deliver with

 

Rogue Wizard

This adventure is 52 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial (featuring a  beautiful side-view overview map of the dungeon), 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 48 pages of content, so let’s check this one out!

 

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

 

Still here? All right! Setzer Salthazar, rogue Klavekian wizard and murderer has been off the radar for years – hiding in Vikmordere territory. he’s not been idle. Hired by sage Yuri Stael to track down and bring the madman to justice the PCs travel from Rybalka to the jagged cliffs, where, once they’ve braced deadly Razorvine and undead guardian ogres, they’ll enter Setzer’s weird wizard tower, topped by a rather strange organic thing. The tower comes with a BEAUTIFUL full color map where they’ll be attacked by a bear rug taxidermy swarm. Floating, organic eyeballs start watching the PCs and by now they should now that they’re in for a disturbing experience indeed. The restless spirit of the tower’s cook, the torture room and its sentinels and vrocks should further enhance the PC’s sense of brute force horror and estrangement.

 

In the next room, we get a rather cool graphic puzzle – a vast room with pillars standing from the water. A selection of planks is provided and the PCs are supposed to create the path across the room in order to avoid the electric eels in the water below. A reason why they can’t just fly over the planks would have been nice, though. In the mad wizard’s cellar, the PCs can get treasures if they brave 8 riddles. In the dungeon, though, true horror awaits – a bone-grinding machine and a room covered in the new bone-dust hazard, which is essentially testament to Setzer’s genocidal aspirations.

 

Now, if you think the upper floors are any less deadly and disturbing, you’d be dead wrong – from a gibbering mouther to a flooding room trap, Setzer has some deadly surprises in store. Especially the latter is interesting, in that it can only be disarmed by the PCs correctly deciphering the sequence of 4 Maya-style glyphs. Oh, and being wet is rather problematic in the Rybalkan climate! Worse, while they can save an Aasimar who, when provided with some levels, might be used to replace a PC who might have died, and die they might: There’s e.g. a room with zero-gravity (and a battle as well as concise rules for this environment) and a deadly room in which the PCs will have to scuttle to prevent fuses from blowing up barrels of gunpowder.

 

And the deadly part has not yet begun: Well hidden, the highest levels are guarded by a flesh golem amalgam of tortured souls, a black pudding knight and then, the PCs enter NITNAM. The strange, heart-like, demonic flying colossus at the top of the tower, which is now fused with Setzer’s lifeforce. The final battle against Setzer and NINTAM’s hearts is a fittingly climactic boss battle after the weird and strange tower, though fighting while NINTAM is  airborne and granting it some additional means to hinder/attack the PCs would have made it even better.

The pdf closes with 3.5 and PFRPG-stats for the adversaries herein (the fleshgolem missing its unique ability in the statblocks, though) and 2 new spells developed by Setzer, his “Storms of sculpted Flesh”, and comes with a one-page handout, where you can print out the planks from aforementioned puzzle.

 

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I only noticed a very minor glitch that has no central bearing on anyone’s enjoyment of the pdf. Layout adheres to Adventureaweek.com’s 2-column parchment-style standard and the cartography, as I’ve come to expect, is awesome. The artwork is ok for the price and manages to convey some of the disturbing tones of the book. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, with herolab support and also a printer-friendly version without backgrounds, but still in color.

This adventure is a straight wizard’s tower crawl and PCs should expect to walk a gauntlet indeed – even Alchemist’s Errand pales in comparison to what the mad mage Setzer has in store – disjointed, disturbing and deadly and the three “d”s that characterize best what to expect from this very dark module. And I LOVE it. The quicksand-style trap and the grinders. The bombs. The floating eyes and the final battle – all very cool. Though I maintain that making the final battle 0-gravity will make the module even better. With the rules provided, any DM can do so! This module provides an old-school, deadly romp including clever puzzles and traps and is spiced up with disturbing madness and biomancy and a memorable showdown indeed.  All in all: A great module, the most original and coolest of the line so far, nothing to complain. Final verdict: 5 stars and Endzeitgeist seal of approval. fans of e.g. Tim Hitchcock or Nicolas Logue or e.g. “War of the Burning Sky’s” biomancy might want to check this out – the module should be right up your alley. And if you want to make Setzer even more memorable, check out Rite Publishing’s #30 Fleshgrafts and add them to Setzer’s arsenal.

 

And here’s one that for a rather long series of releases remained the last I didn’t enjoy in some way:

 

 Icecrag Monastery

This module is 38 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving a total of 34 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

 

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

 

Still here? All right!

The Icecrag monastery has coexisted with a tribe of goat-herding orcs since its inception and the population of the latter has been on the rise – unfortunately to an extent, where the tribe is dependent on wild-life to supplement its dietary needs. More unfortunately, the wild goats and other potential food sources have been diminished. Now the orcs have attacked the monastery. A hawk escapes with a blood-smeared note (included as a hand-out) to Rybalka to warn and ask for assistance. Enter the PCs. Now, as any self-respecting remote monastery, the Icecrag one is located far off from civilization and the trip there is the first thing to do. Some suggestions for hazards and wandering monsters are provided with hyperlinks, but are not reprinted in the pdf – which is a pity if you’re like me and print out modules to run them and somewhat feels a bit lazy. Once the PCs reach the monastery gates (which come as a sketch drawing and a one-page map of the locale), they are instructed by the abbot about the recent sudden onset of orc-raids, only to have one happen at their door. Thankfully, this time the PCs can rebuke the raid and perhaps even learn the new herbalism-feat, which comes with complete rules to create 6 mundane salves/poultices.

 

After rebuking the attack, the chief of the orc tribe comes to the monastery’s door – in peace. The orcs have been starving due to a  white bird demon and provide a crude map to said creature’s home – if the PCs take care of the threat to the local eco-system, the orcs may stop their raids. At the cave, the PCs will have to brave an ice basilisk and then defeat the white dragon that has been the underlying source of the conflict. Once vanquished, there’s again peace between the two groups and PCs may actually get a neat staff from the monks, an orb of illusion and a fully detailed hoard. Rules for rare berries are also provided alongside a stunning artwork of the dragon.

 

Unfortunately, I have also some criticism regarding the adventure’s straight-forward plot: While convincing the monks to abandon their home or killing all orcs are also options suggested in the beginning of the module, these paths are not explored in the slightest. No sample DCs for a conversation to convince the monks to leave, no information on the orc tribe/its camp. essentially, this module pretends to offer a freedom it does not deliver.

Additionally, the attack on the dragon is rather anticlimactic – one paltry minion and that’s it? The overall defenses of the dragon are pathetic and while whites are not the sharpest tools in the shed, more defensive measures would have been appropriate. In fact, I think dragons always deserve special care and an array of tactics. This critter, though, is a static foe at the end of a lair that, in spite of numerous height levels, makes nothing of this terrain – where a cool, modular battle could have taken place (the dragon taking several levels at once etc., nothing really happens and the DM gets no unique tactics that help make the encounter memorable and in the end, reading this finale left me with a distinct feeling of disappointment.

DriveThruRPG.com

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect: I noticed some minor glitches, though nothing serious. The pdf adheres to Adventureaweek.com’s 2-column standard and comes with nice drawings/maps. Unfortunately, though, in a step back, we don’t get any player-friendly maps this time around – disappointing! The pdf comes fully bookmarked, with an extra, printer-friendly version and hero-lab files as well as stats for all involved creatures in both 3.5 and PFRPG.

 

This adventure is not exactly bad. It just has one massive problem: The last two modules by adventureaweek.com were vastly superior to this one. Where the “Secrets of the Tristone” provided neat puzzles and iconic locations and “Rogue Wizard’s” weirdness was a joy to behold, the trip to the Icecrag monastery remains formulaic at best and its presentation  does nothing to help: From a handwaved trip to the place sans anything unique or any sense of narrative foreboding, to the rather bland monastery, I was not captivated even once by what I read here. The short herbalism-feat and idea could have been great, were it expanded upon and supplemented by herb-write-ups – as presented, it feels like a half-baked homebrew-rule (including rather static Knowledge (nature)-checks)  that has imho no place in a professionally done module.

 

Especially when e.g. SGG’s Ranger’s Options book has demonstrated how e.g. herbs could be used to create extracts. And then there are the essentially two encounters: Rebuke tribal foe, slay true culprit of tensions between people. It does not get more formulaic than that. Worse, the true foe is blatantly obvious (white call it by some other name?) and falls terribly FLAT. As one, if not the most iconic beast, its lack of tactics and pitiful defenses make victory for the PCs almost laughably easy if played by the book. Don’t get me wrong, the prose is generally good, but the overall plot is so terribly trite, its execution so unimaginative that I could scarcely believe that it came from the same feather as the last two adventures.  Let’s sum it up: No player-friendly maps. Dropped alternative resolutions of the scenario that are mentioned and then not followed up on. An extremely formulaic plot. A hand-waved wilderness journey. Locales that lack the iconicity of other modules by AaW. A rather lame herbalism-feat that feels like a cut-down chapter in a gazetteer. An unfortunately utterly disappointing finale. “Splinters of Faith 6” does the icy monastery in a much more iconic way and is the overall superior module. Try as I might, even when taking the neat maps and the nice piece of artwork into account, I can’t go higher than 2 stars on this one.

 

As always, thank you for reading my ramblings!

Endzeitgeist out.

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Alchemist’s Errand & Search for the Tri-Stone

 

Today I’m taking a look at another 2 Adventureaweek.com modules, this time at ones that continued to set the bar higher and led the way towards what can be seen in current offerings, namely

 

Alchemist’s Errand

This pdf is 41 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving 36 pages of content, so let’s check this one out, shall we?

 

This is an adventure-review and as such, the following contains SPOILERS. I encourage potential players to skip to the conclusion.

 

Still here? All right! This adventures starts off rather simple: Yuri Statel, sage of Rybalka, needs  some special kind of mushroom (perhaps for his drug cocktails?) and tasks the PCs with contacting famed devil-slayer and hermit Cual Beartooth (whom they might know from earlier adventures). The problem is – said hermit lives in the aptly-named Dark Wood, where perils abound. After being harassed by swarms of deadly creatures (like evil ravens, rats and even vampire spawn), they reach Cual, who promptly points them in the right direction. Overtly-ambitious PCs may also slay a certain Troll, who unfortunately also acts to keep the devils of Dark Wood in check – his demise will potentially have unpleasant consequences in future adventures, but that only as an additional piece of information.

 

Unfortunately for the PCs, the mushrooms have already been picked – fortunately for them, though, the perpetrator is a gnomish wizard who left a trail of crumbs leading to his ice-wall-sealed cave. Said gnome comes out at night and is willing to haggle with the PCs – for two sacks of food, craddleberries and gold. If the PCs acquiesce to the demands, he sends them off to the jagged crags, where the berries grow amidst thorns and near a tri-tongue monstrosity. Unfortunately, the gnome’s accomplice, a babau demon also tries to bully the PCs  into giving up even more of their loot/pillage/kill them.

 

Once they return to the mischievous gnome, he sends them home with shrooms – unfortunately, though, the wrong ones. On their return to the gnome, the PCs are hopefully furious, especially once they realize that gnome and babau are accomplices – seemingly caught in the act, the two retreat into the cavern and it is here that the adventure turn to the more sadistic end – the gnome and demon retreat into a gauntlet of traps, and what traps! From a fake puzzlebox to a lake of oil that is ignited, a lake of sulfuric acid-laden water, a radioactive island set up like a beacon in a small subterranean lake, to zombie pits, ratswarms etc., the PCs are in for quite a ride! If they can defeat the two villains at the end of the gauntlet, they might also finally find the rare mushrooms they sought as well as a secret treasure hoard that contains a neat magical amulet, which also gets A LOT of background story in the back – be sure to check this out. It should also be mentioned, that the final battle comes with a battle-mat-style map of the cavern with its natural rock pillars.

The adventure ends with full stats for 3.5 and PFRPG-versions of the antagonists

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any jarring glitches or the like. Layout adheres to adventureaweek.com‘s two-column standard and this one comes fully bookmarked and with herolab-files. Special mention deserve, as always in adventureaweek.com-modules, the cartography: The dungeon is actually 3 pages of maps and we get *drums* PLAYER-FRIENDLY MAPS! Yes Key-less, letter-less, but unfortunately showing the secret passage. Oh well, but that’s a step in the right direction! The battle-mat-style map for the final battle is nice and generally, while the plot per se starts like a simple fetch-quest, it turns nasty VERY quick. This feint is a neat idea to catch the PCs off guard and the dungeon is very well done. The hazards and environmental traps are clever, downright sadistic at times and make the whole experience really feel like running a deadly gauntlet. On the content-side, this is also one of adventureaweek.com’s modules that offers quite a bit bang for buck – 36 pages is perfectly fine for the price-point. That being said, I really enjoyed this module and in the end will settle for a final verdict of 4 stars.

 

 

And then there’ a module, that can be considered truly excellent:

 

The Search for the Tri-Stone

 

This adventure is 31 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 27 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? This one kicks off with  rather interesting quest – the PCs are called upon by a man named Sultowik with a rather delicate proposal: A local tribe of Vikmordere has contacted him to locate a certain artifact – which unfortunately lies in Klavekian territory. Not wanting to risk an uproar, the PCs have to discreetly get the Tri-Stone to prevent further tensions between ethnicities. Unfortunately, the location of said artifact is codified in a rune-stone.

Very cool idea to start with: Runic alphabets of the ancients – a sample runic alphabet based on the FuÞark is included as well as an artwork of a stick that provides the runes with their regular letter-equivalents. While not 100% accurate, the inclusion of the runes makes for an awesome idea. Even better – once the PCs have found the rune-stone (with a one-page artwork), they can use the rune stick to decipher the inscriptions. VERY cool puzzle!

 

Once the PCs have correctly deciphered the rune-stone’s message, they’re up for a short trek along some steep cliffs and then, they’ll have to climb down the cliff – hidden by illusions in the middle of the cliff’s wall lies the ancient burial ship of King Rytan. Let that sink in: The PCs will have to explore a viking burial ship (complete with a LOT of undead, traps and even, yes, zombie handmaidens!) to find the artifact. Also cool: There are traps that make sense in their placement and which can be avoided by cleverly deciphering a warning via the rune-stick. I would have loved a piece of artwork depicting the room and the runes to show to the PCs instead of one showing the undead handmaidens, though – as written, you have to make the runic inscriptions that warn them of the trap yourself.

 

Even if the PCs manage to claim the fables Tri-Stone, they will still be ambushed by a rival tribe of Vikmordere and will have quite a tough battle on their hands. Now, if the PCs have not robbed the burial ship, they are awarded (possibly also in a future adventure), but if they opt to do so, they can score the ancient king’s magical sword and shield. Full stats for the powerful artifact are included and thankfully, the thing can’t be abused by greedy PCs. Clever writing! The pdf concludes with full stats for the adversaries as well as a player-friendly map (YES!) without keys and letters you can hand out to your players. It’s not over, though: A vampiric shaman of the Vikmordere takes the Tri-Stone once the PCs have parted with it, leaving us with an exciting cliff-hanger.

 

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect – e.g. the description of the aftermath suddenly and for no explicable reason turns the text to italics. Layout adheres to adventureaweek.com’s full-color two-column standard and provides awesome maps and neat pieces of artwork, especially for the puzzle. The pdf comes with bookmarks as well as Herolab-support, but no printer-friendly version. Wow – a great puzzle, neat maps and a location that oozes iconicity and coolness. Just when I thought I knew what to expect at best from adventureaweek.com, they pull this one out of their hats. Let me spell it out for you: This is as of yet by far their best module – from the awesome puzzles (that should stupefy no player, but be fun and come with DM-aids to help stuck players) to the iconic dungeon and sense of ancientness, I can find no weakness in the narrative or the module’s overall presentation. In fact, I was positively blown away by how neat and concise the narrative is presented. In fact, apart from aforementioned “missing” artwork (one would have been useful) and the lack of a b/w-version sans background, I have nothing to complain. Due to these two minor gripes, I’ll omit my seal of approval, but I’ll nevertheless settle for a final verdict of 5 stars – especially for the fair price of $5.00, this is a good purchase indeed.

 

And that’s it for now, as always, thank you for reading my ramblings!

Endzeitgeist out. 

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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.

 

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Rise of the Drow III: Usurper of Souls

Hej everybody,

Today I’m going to take a look at the furious finale to Adventureaweek.com’s Rise of the Drow Trilogy,

 

Rise of the Drow III: Usurper of Souls

The final installment of the “Rise of the Drow”-trilogy clocks in at a whopping 252 pages, 1 front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages ToC, 8 pages of very readable and informative bios of the AaW-team, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a whopping 239 pages of content. Not bad!

This being the review to the conclusion of the final installment of AaW’s Rise of the Drow-Saga and sequel to one of the best underdark adventures I’ve read in quite a while, the following contains SPOILERS and for your own sake, you should skip to the conclusion if you want to participate in the module as a player.

Still here? All right! Depending on the choices they PCs made in the predecessor modules, they are off to rather different start and later in the adventure, the paths may diverge even further. Anyways, in last adventure, the PCs have entered the drow city of Holoth via either frontal assault or the back door and this is where the module kicks off – with the details on the compound of house Gullion and the attack/infiltration in full swing. Thus, at the beginning, the module is a rather free-form style exploration/infiltration and provides us with information on e.g. the slave dens, in which dinosaur-riding drow as well as an advanced tyrannosaurus are guarding the slaves. Worse, indoctrination and clever favoritism has bred a significant amount of slaves that might turn on the PCs when freed! The mushroom gardens also have their shepherds – corrupted mushroom golems, abducted from last module’s excellent and innovative finale.

True to the sandboxy style of the presentation, we also get the fully-detailed, many-layered spider-shaped temple of Naraneus, the Queen of Spiders for the PCs to attack and explore and pilfer: Among the loot some rather cool unique drwarven weapons the PCs can find (e.g. an urgosh and a trident) as well as a rather neatly detailed library in which not only several books are detailed, but which also houses a nice secret that can potentially help the PCs deal with a color-coded puzzle. The PCs can also encounter a neat unique mosaic golem and even a book golem. Whether the PCs ignore the temple or clear it out before they enter the steps to the adjacent Tologorith tower remains up to them – also rather nice: Depending on the path they’ve chosen, the PCs may actually stumble upon a battle between the drow and the crystalline vidre, who are anything but pushovers and not too pleased by the dark elves’ (perceived) failures. Tolgorith tower, base of house Gullion and location of the artifact Vidrefacte, will be not a pushover for the PCs to explore: First of all, the massive amount of ritual sacrifices enables to drow to have forbiddances, guards and wards and unhallow in effect – ouch. Better yet, the defenses and tactics of the drow soldiers actually make sense in the defense of the tower – but fret not, this module does not devolve into a drow slugfest, for the dungeon of the tower contains an unlikely ally for the PCs, provided they survive the beastmasters of house Gullion – in the crypt, the PCs can find a plethora of undead – that don’t want to kill the PCs and instead come with an offer under the guidance of Makinnga Gullion:

The mistress of undead on her artifact-level powerful blood throne wants to shatter the Vidrefacte and put an end to the deal with the crystalline, soul-consuming Vidre – and she knows how: By sending her undead allies into the artifact, she plans to subvert its powers, tearing it asunder and breaking the tower in the process. Unfortunately, any contact with the artifact could cancel the trial and thus, PCs will have to keep their foe’s hands off the artifact. Worse yet, they probably wouldn’t survive the tower’s collapse – unless they agree to a nice ploy – Makinnga suggests they bring her personal belongings of members of house Gullion will be needed in order to create an effect that will postpone the collapse of the tower for the PCs to escape as well as providing them with a camouflage cover that could enable them to flee. Better yet, we get a sheet naming the respective characters on which the items secured can be tracked easily – nice help for GMs and players alike! Well, and if the players seek combat, they’ll have their hands full here as well – Makinnga’s allies include a nice gnomish demi-lich that will come to her aid… Said demi-lich is actually rather reasonable btw., and in no way required to be defeated – a nice classic “what you sow is what you reap”-situation.

Now, even with this potential ally, the rest of the tower will not be a cakewalk – take for example a haunt that has the players swarmed by phantasmal waves of poisonous spiders or the penultimate major hindrance between the PCs and the showdown with the mother matron: Maltorya, mad cleric and next in line for the matron’s title, seeks to not only defeat the PCs (they happen upon her as she conducts a grueling sacrifice), but pull them to the private demi-plane bestowed upon the house by the dread spider goddess – a place of viscous, extremely lethal poison, airborne spider swarms and a deadly and disturbing confrontation to say the least and the one place I would have LOVED to see further detailed – with a map and scenarios à la “fighting on swinging rope bridges over the sea of poison. Here, the module has essentially missed a chance. That being said, it’s not the final confrontation and essentially we get two boss battles at once. Climbing the mandible-like stairs (including painful biting) to the final level of the tower and the battle royale.

I don’t use that particular compound often. It is wholly appropriate here – what at first kicks off as the epic showdown with the insanely powerful mother matron for the crystalline artifact quickly becomes an all-out brawl: While it takes some round for the matron to realize that the undead (if applicable and a deal has been struck) seek to destroy the Vidrefacte instead of attacking the PCs. Of course, the PCs may also have problems with the undead and the Vidre that bursts in on the fourth round, making this showdown rather complex. Great help for the DM to run this encounter is provided in the form of a round-by-round table that lists tactics/things happening by group and thus makes handling the groups rather easy as well as providing a nice guideline to making this conflict as cinematic as it should be. If the PCs have scored ALL items, they have 14 rounds to escape the tower – and here, we get another piece of coolness: Instead of just having the collapse be hand-waved (seen that done rather often), we get 11 different things that can happen – write them upon sheets and the roll these bones for chances of collapse, people tumbling out of the tower, exterior walls breaking etc. – climactic, tight in its allotted time and hardcore, the escape will have your players on the edge of their seats. Oh, and if they want to featherfall/fly out of the tower, falling chunks/quakes/errant sonic blasts etc. can hit them there as well, if you as a DM so chose – I can see at least some of the collapsing parts working well in this instance as well. Hopefully, they manage to evade capture and slip out of the ruined section of Holoth.

Depending on their choices, though, the beautiful city of Embla might be no longer existent, people may have died or survived and it is time to reap the fruits of the labor of their help – Mikannga, if they chose to deal with her, actually honors her deal…for now and the PCs may find themselves even be revered as some kind of demi-gods by the dwarves. As often, though, the best ending, the one of the smartest path with the least casualties is the one that has the heroes remain mostly unsung – a nice parallel with real life, though easily remedied, should you chose to do so.

The pdf also contains lists of XP by used path of all the Rise of the Drow modules and a write-up of Naraneus, the Spider Goddess (including the penumbra and shadow domains – the latter coming with 9 all new spells, one of which is essentially a shadow-themed fireball-clone – that deals untyped damage. That’s a no-go. Against a fireball, you can protect yourself. Against a shadow blast? No protection from shadowy untyped energy exists, making this lvl 3-spell vastly superior and unbalanced even when compared to an already very strong core-spell like fireball. The Vidrefacte is also fully detailed and after that, we’re off to the encounter indexes, which contain full stats both for 3.5 and PFRPG – and also some elaborate backgrounds for several of the characters herein. 8 full color maps are interspersed throughout the pdf and the final pages are taken up by a list of “what has gone before”-style events as well as a chart that provides the most likely outcome of all three main paths the trilogy can have taken.

 

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect: I encounter e.g. a homonymy-error and some other minor hick-ups. Layout adheres to AaW’s two-column full color standard and Todd Gamble’s cartography is, as usual, excellent. Special mentioning deserves the STELLAR cover artwork by James J. Krause, the man behind the awesome fungal golem artwork in part 2 – the BBEG depicted oozes “dangerous, beautiful, fully armed drow lady”-flair. Awesome! The pdf comes with extensive, nested bookmarks and a background-less printer-friendly version. As per the writing of this review herolab-files have not yet been added, but will be.

Here we are, at the conclusion of the Rise of the Drow-Trilogy and oh boy, it ends with a bang! This module is best summed up as “War in a drow city” or “Infiltration of a drow compound”. Have we seen similar things before? Yes, in Endless Night, for example. Where this module truly excels is the focus on the grounds of house Gullion and the fact that this place is DEADLY. Dumb PCs WILL die. This module should be considered a free-form, sandboxy, extremely detailed infiltration/escalation that, when handled, should feel reminiscent of e.g. the final section a Bond movie – foes left and right, climactic battles, sneaking, death traps and a furious “blow all up” finale. The individual characters are great, the locations iconic and the finale (and pre-finale including a demi-plane)ROCKS.

That being said, the adventure has one narrative peculiarity a DM should be aware of: In order to grasp what happens in the finale, the PCs are presumed to find and talk to a NPC they could easily miss – while orchestrating a meet-up should prove no problem to any DM, it’s the one weak link of a finale that otherwise is just simply epic. Best of all, the whole product oozes a constant sense of a lion’s den, looming death and potential for conflict and style. The locations the PCs visit feel vastly more unique than my frame of reference “City of the Spider Queen”. In contrast to “Endless Night”, the PCs are not glued to infiltration-rails and could just as well try to take the drow spells and blades blazing, though actions like this will have consequences. Their actions obviously do matter – and a couple of useful foreshadowing lets one anticipate what will come of the aftermath of the Rise of Drow Trilogy. I also like how the actions in part GREATLY influence everything that goes on in this module, making a good example that player-driven narratives and sandboxy environments work perfectly in tandem when handled with care.

Regarding the links with adventure I and II, the ties to 2 are rather dominant, while Part 1 remains essentially a glorified introduction to the whole module – foreshadowing the potential ally by making her an ally of adventure I’s BBEG – which would further make the byzantine politics of the drow city obvious. If you’re planning on running the Rise of the Drow-trilogy, I wholeheartedly encourage you to read ALL 3 modules and prepare them as one mega-module. Unlike the Monstrous-Arcana 2nd edition trilogies, these modules are strongly linked together in a compelling narrative. Enemies fight smart, the module is full of details (somewhat alike e.g. RSP’s Shadowed Keep of the Borderlands”) and the challenges are real and evocative. Think of it as one mega-module in 3 parts.

I really like the ambition of the product, AaW’s bristling creativity and the finale as well as the option for the PCs to do vastly diverging things throughout the module. Not all is excellent, though: The new shadow domain unfortunately feels slightly repetitive and features a spell that is terribly unbalanced and needs revision. The module also has slightly more minor glitches than what I’ve come to expect from AaW. Then again, the module is, even SANS stats over 90 pages long – add the stats of your choice (e.g. 68 pages for PFRPG!) and we get a bang-for-buck ratio one truly can’t complain about.

That being said, in spite of the options of different paths and the strange allies the PCs can make herein (and probably should, regarding the power-level of the foes in these pages), this module feels a slight bit less polished than Part I and II – there are some ideas like a demi-plane that could have easily be enhanced to be even more memorable. That being said, I’m nagging on a VERY HIGH level here – the finale of the Rise of the Drow-trilogy is a great module, full of tension and flavor. It’s just that with some minor tweaks, it could have easily been a legendary module – good news being that DMs should not be too challenged by making the very minor modifications to enhance the module even further. The DM/player-aids to handle a complex fight, a sub-quest and the final escape also rock hard and make running this module also a feasible endeavor for DMs with less experience. How to rate this, then? After some rather extensive deliberation, I’m going to settle for a final verdict of 4.5 stars, since the minor weak point coalesce with some missed chances from me considering this excellent. This module offers a lot of band for buck. It is also a better read than “City of the Spider-Queen” and completely different from “Endless Night” in scope and tone – thus, I’ll round up to 5 stars.

And If you’re interested: If I had to rate the whole trilogy, I’d give it 5 stars, but for now remain just short of the seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

 

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Rise of the Drow II: Scourge of Embla

Hej everybody,

Today it is my pleasure not only to review the second part of AdventureaWeek.com‘s Rise of the Drow Trilogy, but also introduce you to what might very well be the best underdark module released so far for PFRPG. Without further ado:

 

Rise of the Drow II: Scourge of Embla

Interior artwork looks better than this cover...

This module is 84 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving a total of 80 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

The trade city of Embla is perhaps the most ingenious dwarven city I’ve ever seen – built into vast so-called Gonjolas, crystals suspended from vast chains and connected by suspension bridges – I expected much, but not something so iconic – awesome! The pdf kicks off with a rather detailed description of the city and its locations and even organizations. A drow spy is also mentioned and described in detail.

 

This being an adventure review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may want to skip to the conclusion.

 

Still here? All right!

After having been contacted by dwarves, the PCs have ventured into the mysterious underdark, unearthing a potentially vast threat to the surface of which the folk of Rybalka may or may not be aware at this point. Thus, their journey to thwart the gambit of house Gullion has led them to the wondrous dwarven city of Embla and speak with Maylorin and the merchant circle, hopefully managing to save at least some of their allies from a deadly cadre of drow assassins. Once the assassins have been defeated, your dwarven ally may lead the adventurers towards the city of Holoth – perhaps the PCs have even gotten a glance of the scrying attempt of the soul-consuming Vidrefacte. Here, the adventure splits into 3 paths – either the PCs try to warn Rybalka and return to the surface, sneak to the backdoor of Holoth or gather the remaining warriors of the dwarven city and opt for a frontal assault. And the consequences of each action may be dire:

If they return to the surface, Embla will be squashed with all the consequences that entails in Part III adventure. If the PCs opt for a frontal assault, they will have to deal with a rather deadly slugfest to break through the drow’s lines of defense and finally, if the PCs opt for the back door, they will have to traverse the domain of an albino dragon, deal with underdark dangers and survive extensive climbing sections (including a table of DCs and modifications) and survive falling stalactites. Potentially, they can find the resting place of a famous explorer and glean a hint from his journal (with a rather lavish entry) that may lead them to a gem of legend. Beyond that, a cave with a purple worm and her young awaits as well as fiendish advanced chokers, mold, fungi and slime. Speaking of Fungi: The Fungus Forest they encounter makes for a truly unique climax for this adventure, one I haven’t seen before in any way:

Carefully tended by the impressive fungiant Huolethia Sieni, this garden comes to fruition only once each season and for 15 minutes – unfortunately, a tribe of particularly vicious fiendish chokers, the Ottaakiinni, has been harassing both him and his mushroom golems. The fungiant wants the PCs to help him harvest as many caps and edible spores from his cultivated farm as possible – and thus, the game is on: The fungus forest has 4 different levels, all detailed via schematic drawings of colored circles and each less dense in undergrowth than the one before. Different mushrooms have different sizes and point values assigned. Better yet, after the PCs have harvested, he’ll turn the mushrooms to usable equipment/boons for the PCs, depending on which caps/spores they collected. DCs for diplomacy with the fungiant and golems as well as the sizes and point values of all the mushrooms are included in their own easy to navigate tables. Better yet, there actually is a separate version of the mushroom mini-game, making it also a rather neat idea to run at a con. Have I mentioned the three new spells, player-friendly maps of Embla, Underdark and the Back Road?

 

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch this time around, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to an elegant 2-column standard with the boxes we know from the revised AaW.com-layout, but with a spidery border. Neat! The pdf is lavishly bookmarked and the illustration of the Fungiant is awesome – as is the cartography: Todd Gamble has created some of his neatest pieces here and especially the map of Embla is a joy to behold. The pdf comes with an extra version of the mini-game as a pdf and a printer-friendly version. Herolab-files for the module will probably created soon as well, but have not yet been published as I write these lines.

It is rare for me to show any sense of wonder anymore, any sense of excitement and many designers forget that the underdark is more than a bunch of caverns filled with nasties – it’s supposed to be an alien world of wonder, that is claustrophobic and disturbing. The pdf recommends the old Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide and indeed, this module breathes the spirit of this stellar classic, delivering an old-schoolish sense of wonder and danger that goes beyond what one finds in almost all Underdark adventures nowadays without being repetitive of the classic concepts. The city of Embla is fascinating and I honestly wouldn’t have minded a whole sourcebook à la Paizo’s city-gazetteers devoted to it. And then there’s the climax that is not a classic boss-fight or a been-there, done-that encounter, but rather an imaginative, innovative, cool mini-game that will test the PC’s abilities to their limit should you chose so. This module has it all: Atmosphere. Imaginative, unique and iconic locations. Plot hooks. The option to jump off the rails and do something dramatically different, diverging from the presumed path. And the stellar, cool, innovative conclusion. This is how underdark-adventures should look nowadays. An awesome module, worth every cent of the price of admission and mops the floor with its direct predecessor. My final verdict? 5 stars + Endzeitgeist seal of approval. Nothing to complain -at all! Apart from one thing: Why is the Fungiant not on the cover? The artwork is SO AWESOME and much more compelling that the module’s cover!

 

As always, thank you for reading my ramblings, see you in part III!

Endzeitgeist out.