Posted on Leave a comment

B5 – To Catch a Serpent


To Catch a Serpent

 

This adventure is 29 pages long, 1 page editorial, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving 26 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

 

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

 

All right, still here? When the PCs arrive at the harbor-town of Tawwa, it is a bureaucratic nightmare par excellence – the last couple of days have seen a series of grisly murders of bureaucrats, officials and members of prominent families have been murdered and the PCs are promptly recruited to take a look at the scenes of the crime. Now the investigation is rudimentary – very rudimentary. Essentially, there is one generic clue that doesn’t help the PCs to be found and the build-up of any sense of mystery is immediately squashed by an assassination attempt on the mayor and his mistress, which the PCs witness and hopefully thwart, the culprits being Garuda. While magic and the clues it can deliver has been taken into account, the mystery is essentially none – the PC’s investigation has no bearing whatsoever on the plot and does not contribute anything to the overall story. After vanquishing the outsiders (taking hostages being not accounted for), the PCs will have another thing up their hands – the harbormaster has been brutally slain while the PCs were busy saving the mayor.

 

Again, though, there’s not much for the players to find apart from a hidden dock and a ship that supposedly sank, hinting at a mystery that would be interesting – would it not be explained away easily whether or not the PCs succeed at even the most basic of investigations. Turns out that the changed MO of the last killing points towards another culprit: Aboard the ship once was a creature called Aurspeily, which broke through the bars when the harbormaster and his associated tried to steal the box. The creature has broken through the floor, thus forcing the PCs to follow it down into the city’s sewer. The sewers get some neat maps, but the harbormaster’s warehouse is not covered, which is problematic since honestly, I had a hard time picturing how the place was supposed to look. Worse, once in the sewers, the PCs will encounter a Garuda hunting party that essentially serves as captain exposition, invalidating any research the PCs may have done. Everything up until now has been an utter waste of time. Yeah. The story goes as follows: The city is covertly run by a Naga which the Garuda hunt. The dead people were servants of the Naga and the supposedly sunken boat was chartered by them before the Naga’s servants tried to lose it in the bureaucracy/etc.. If they have the Garuda with them (who actually ASK for parley), they may even take the Aurspeily in and calm the beast. After encountering some Naga cultists and a mad invisible stalker (who would have made a great red herring in the investigation), the PCs find the Naga’s hideout, a spiral-shaped gauntlet of deadly traps -after braving several admittedly smart traps, the PCs will square off versus the Naga for an urn stolen from the Garuda which contains the ashes of one of their champions as well as the safety of the city. The spiral-shaped lair is also lavishly illustrated.

RPGNow.com

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect – I noticed e.g. minor typos, two tense errors etc. Layout adheres to AaW’s 2-column standard and the pdf comes in 2 versions, one optimized for printer-use. As per the writing of this review, the herolab-files have not yet been added, but will be. The pdf comes with full bookmarks and player-friendly versions of the maps, which is neat.

 

This module by Michael McCarthy is a disappointment to say the least – clocking in at only 14 pages sans the statblocks, the low page-count essentially wrecks what could have easily become a stellar module: All the pieces are there: A mysterious series of murders, a conspiracy, interlopers to the established city, an interesting finale. The problem is that this module is under the delusion of being an investigation when it isn’t one. The investigative scenes provide no option to unearth any clues regarding the nature of the culprits, the conspiracy or the background of the adventure – all of that is relegated to one narrative deadly sin of emptying the exposition dump on the PC’s heads. Worse, the investigative scenes not only remain utterly bereft of consequences, not even the most basic of PC steps apart from 2 high-level spells (NICE!) are covered -there is no information to be gleaned from any NPC or any amount of investigation and the whole act is essentially a barely disguised exposition dump to railroad the PCs into a confrontation with an assassination attempt – one that does not take into account the taking of prisoners, mind you. The investigation-areas also lack maps, which is especially a pity when the second area is concerned, where the PCs get to know about the second potential killer introduced to the city. Again, though, investigation is utterly futile and bereft of any meaning whatsoever. Worse, the revelation that could point towards the unearthing of the conspiracy is also utterly invalidated by an impossibility of the PCs finding out about the significance of any of their findings. To add insult to narrative injury, the supposed chaos that besieges the city is nothing short of a note in the background – nowhere does investigation or narrative ever mention this again or see any true repercussions, making the set-up feel completely superfluous.

 

And then there’s the moral ambiguity – turn out the killers actually are good-aligned creatures that brought a potentially lethal thing into town and want to root out a mastermind of a conspiracy. Well, if said foe is vanquished, wouldn’t the city descend into anarchy? Are their murderous actions justified due to their victims being cultists/adherents of the conspiracy? There is potential here and nothing is realized.

 

This module is an exercise in utterly wasted potential: Where “It all falls down“, also by Michael McCarthy, is a fast-paced action romp, this module tries to use a similar formula, but fails in all the ways in which the former succeeds. Where the investigation in B3 was short and rudimentary and there to present a simple background story and get them into the action, this module presumes a complex narrative and at the same time provides no way for the PCs to unearth any component of it. The railroadiness and exposition dumps make this module fail as hard as humanly possible on a narrative level and utterly destroy what is essentially an awesome set-up. The ultimate problem of “To Catch a Serpent” is page-count: The set-up per se is awesome and could have been developed easily into a stellar module by adding A LOT of information – on the city’s rising ambience of fear. By adding NPCs to interview, clues to find, actual investigations that help and give the PCs an edge versus their opponents. By developing the moral conundrums between the factions and perhaps include actual responses of the factions to the PC’s meddling à la assassins, summoned monster attacks etc.. There also is a distinct lack of gravitas for any action that happens in the module – whether by PCs or NPCs and even the mad being that is essentially a glorious red herring that, via e.g. city records, could have made for a great DM-twist, is nothing more than a glorified random encounter.  Not even the interesting villain’s lair in the end can make up for the fact that this module essentially tries to jack-hammer a complex investigation into an encounter-formula that is simply not up to the task and relegates the players to the role of impotent watchers of the things that unfold.

RPGNow.com

 

And page-count is no excuse per se: 0onegames’ The Sinking-series features a couple of compelling investigations in less pages, but the modules don’t try to jam too many story-threads into the content. Depending on your perspective, this module tries either too much at once for the page-count and fails to properly develop all of the ideas or it tries to tell a complex story and omits too much and just fails due to its shortness. Either way, the module, as written, fails – horribly. In fact, bas enough to make me go one star – only that the module does not deserve it. A talented GM can easily take the story-threads, develop 12 murder victims, add clues, flesh out the city, develop the ideas etc. and create a web of clues and make this an awesome piece. But the amount of work this would take is extraordinary and since I can’t rate this module for its potential, but rather for what’s there, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 1.5 stars, rounded up to 2 due to the potential of its set-up. Unless you’re unwilling to devote a lot of time to fleshing this module out steer clear – in order to be more than a ridiculously passive railroad, this module needs essentially a complete overhaul.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Posted on Leave a comment

It all Falls Down

 

Today I’m taking a look at Michael McCarthy’s second module of AaW’s B-series,

 

It All Falls Down

 

This module is 31 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 28 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

 

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

 

Still here? All right! In the tunnels under the city of Silverlight Hollow, madness reigns – the estate of the Iroth family (depicted with a  full family tree in a side-box) was wrecked by explosions, the vault emptied to the underworld and their priceless Saatman Emerald stolen. Luckily, they managed to capture and keep alive one of the assailants, a mad dwarf from the realms below. It falls to the PCs to question the mad dueragr named arsonist, himself the mastermind behind the massive device of explosives used in the heist. The first scene and challenge of the module, thus, is to get the truth out of the deliciously mad sample ramblings provided for the dwarf – an interrogation-scene done right indeed. If they’re smart, they might coax the name of a fire Iroth house guard from the insane captive and thus follow the trail to the shack of Grabgur. If they manage to coax his involvement out of the drunkard, they may actually find the Xibrell tunnels buried under the city.

 

Once they’ve gone there, though, things will quickly start to fall down, since the insane duergar have actually riddled the passages with their sonic-based explosive devices, which means the PCs are truly in for a challenge and sprint – it goes boom and then the massive skill challenges of not getting squashed by rocks begins. When the dust has settled and the PCs are still among the living, they may come into possession of the missing emerald – but are buried in the claustrophobic, hostile tunnels –  a fact a clever DM can use to generate truly awesome bouts of claustrophobia. In order o cash in their reward, the PCs will have to navigate the tunnels and potentially cross the duergar village of Xibrell, where the maddened grey dwarves lead lives of relative apathy with their insectoid chikfari mounts. Handled carefully, this section will utterly estrange the PCs!

Wait, you say. Duergar? Mad? We have other dwarves for that, namely the Derro! YES! And a derro is actually the instigator of the madness – in a rather interesting twist that could result in uncommon allies, should the DM so desire, the PCs can destroy the derro-ghost inhabiting the town’s fountain, thus curing the village of evil dwarves of their madness. Then again – does that not make them more dangerous?

RPGNow.com

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to AaW.com’s two-column standard and the artworks are ok. As I’ve come to expect from AaW, the cartography of both tunnels and village are awesome and come with extra player-friendly maps. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks and with a background-less, printer-friendly version. Herolab files will be added, but as I write these lines, have not yet been provided.

Author Michael McCarthy delivers a fast-paced, short, but oh so sweet adventure here that features a nice bit for socially inclined characters to shine, a nail-bitingly exciting skill challenge as well as a great mini sandbox and even cool options to spin further adventures and influence the future of an uncommon settlement. Add to that the sheer adrenaline and atmosphere any DM worth his salt can evoke with this module and we’re in for a short, but sweet winner. My final verdict will be 5 stars + endzeitgeist seal of approval. Well done indeed!

 

As always, thanks for reading my ramblings,

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Under his Skin & Happiness in Slavery

Today I’m going to take a look at the first 2 offerings from AdventureaWeek.com’s B-series of adventures, which are penned by guest authors as opposed to regular staff, starting with

 

Under his Skin

 

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

 

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players might want to jump to the conclusion.

 

All right, still here? Saben Behi, purveyor and scholar of magic, has turned to darker arts and managed to capture a worm-that-walks in his tower – a pathetic example of the ilk, but one nevertheless. Unfortunately for him, the thing has escaped with the help of the infernal master to which its soul is indebted and executed the captor. The PCs learn of the lapse in the sage’s communication and now are expected to find out what has befallen the sage.

 

After two days in a desert, the PCs encounter an impossible oasis, a jungle-maze which not only houses the sage’s tower, but which is also infested with stirges and seeks to disorient the PCs. It should be noted that the 3.5 and PFRPG-challenges in this section of the adventure are rather different from one another – nice if you want to run the module multiple times. The Ps might also find Saben’s dead messenger and a note here, making clear for once and all that something went rather wrong here. The exploration of the sage’s tower features, among others, vermin, an alchemical amoeba, a potentially helpful water mephit that can shed some light on what happened as well as a battle against an augur kyton and the worm-that-walks that proved to be the undoing of the mage. The pdf also includes a new pistol that never runs out of ammunition.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout is all new – full-color, streamlined, more professionally looking, concise, easy to read and rather beautiful – kudos for this revised layout – it makes reading the pdf more comfortable than the older AaW-releases. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and in 3 version – the full color version, a printer-friendly version that is full color, but without background and another printer-friendly version that eliminates the color from e.g. the read-aloud boxes as well -Commendable! The pdf also comes with full herolab-support. As I’ve come to expect from AaW, the cartography is beautiful and both the general location and the tower featured come in two versions – one DM-version and a player-friendly version of the map, which is awesome and should be standard! Kudos again! The pdf also comes with a note as a handout, again, nice. I did like this adventure, but it should be noted that it’s among the shorter modules by AaW – the dual statblocks for 3.5 and PFRPG take up quite some space.

That being said, the writing of Michael McCarthy is solid and the module per se a nice exploration of a wizard’s tower. The one thing I didn’t wholly grasp was how the boss could overwhelm the creator of the tower – at its powerlevel, the boss is not particularly lethal for an archmage. I’m somewhat nitpicking here and I’m aware of that – the fact is, that while the module is solid and fun, it lacks a truly intriguing, unique component that sets it apart, something wholly and truly outstanding – like additional/unique hazards in the jungle, rules for the trip across the desert, something akin to the swamp-boat mini-game in “Wild Things” or a smart puzzle . Thus, I’ll settle for a final verdict of “only” 4 stars.

 

 

 

Happiness in Slavery

 

This module is 47 pages long, 1page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving 42 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.

After some detours to other places, we now return to the village of Rybalka and ona nice evening full of drink, the village is attacked by what is first thought to be Vikmordere, but turns out to be orcs. As soon as they’ve been driven off, a headcount reveals that people have been dragged off by slavers. The chase is on and the PCs may bluff the orcs of the raiding ship if they’re smart and get quite a bit of information as well as the sense that something is wrong with them. Anyways, the trail leads to the Orc’s island, where they have to brave dangers like lacedons and the protection and booby traps guarding the approach to the orcish settlement. Once there, the PCs have choices between stealth, direct approach (negotiation or combat) and even bluffing their way in.

And then, the module takes the noble savage-twist with Pomak, the chief, who seeks to atone for the tribe’s sin of cowardice by offering his life. These orcs are apathetic and grieving and the village priest has advocated for the sacrifice of the villagers and the raid, for the orcs are terrorized by a group of ettins. In two days, the two-headed monsters return and while the PCs might leave the orcs to their fate, an excessive sidebar covers preparations for the arrival of the giants – from securing allies and creating supplies to improving the walls. The PCs and orcs can stand together against the ettin assault, taking on 4 (!!!) ettins and hopefully having used the time well. Once the ettins have been eliminated in a heroic struggle (including a potential coup d’état), the PCs are left with a mystery – the captives are nowhere to be found and the trail, for now, runs cold, but we’ll return to that in a future module…

The pdf closes by the encounter index, providing all stats in 3.5 and PFRPG and comes with a full-page map of Rybalka as well as a map of the adventure-locations and a player-friendly version of latter map. The map of the orc’s island deserves special praise – it’s beautiful indeed.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, while not absolutely perfect, are very good. I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to AaW’s new 2-column standard and is in full-color and nice. The artworks are mostly ones I’ve seen before. The pdf is fully bookmarked and comes with two alternate printer-friendly versions as well as herolab-support. This module is fun – not because of the rather regular beginning, but because of the fact that it essentially provides the option to use a variety of solutions for the problems and features a cool siege-like scenario in the end that can be truly fun. While I would have loved some sample encounters that could go wrong in the end (jamming ballista etc.), that’s not enough to rate this module down. It is fun, provides incentives for not mindlessly butchering everything and provides an interesting glimpse at orcs beyond being evil creatures. Essentially, this module does almost the same plot as “Icecrag Monastery”, but is better in just about every way. That being said, the finale could indeed use more “small” encounters of things the PCs might fix themselves and influence the final battle. If they had been included, this adventure would have been great – as written, we remain with a good adventure that falls slightly short of being great. My final verdict will thus be 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

 

Thanks for reading my ramblings, as always!

Endzeitgeist out. 

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Under His Skin by Michael McCarthy

Jonathan: Michael, please tell us what inspired you to write “Under His Skin” your latest adventure module released on Adventureaweek.com.

Michael: Every adventure is inspired by something. A book, a movie, an exciting moment in one game, that the writer wants to crystallize for the reader to experience.

Hi, I’m Michael McCarthy, and I’m going to be talking about what inspired me on my recent adventure, Under His Skin, and my upcoming one, It All Falls down.

Now, the former one is simple – as my first offering for Adventureaweek, I wanted to make sure it was accessible; level one, and it had to be relatable too; which is why I went with the theme of ‘a wizard did it’, one of the tried and true core concepts in adventure writing. There’s even a chapter named after the idea – a wizard built it – because I wanted to pass the feeling on to the reader even beyond the tower and the jungle itself.

It All Falls Down was less clear, when I started, what the adventure was going to be. All I knew is that I wanted to include one major encounter that felt like a movie scene, with the players outrunning a ceiling bent on collapsing. Why did I want that? Because, of all things, of an environmental effect in Skyrim, where a little bit of dust falls from the ceiling as you pass through a door. That’s right: a particle effect.

From there, there were lots of options, particularly whether I wanted to set the collapse on its own, or as part of a bigger dungeon. Maybe a giant was smashing through the ceilings of the building the pcs were running through. Or maybe the dungeon could collapse as the pcs try and escape with a maguffin.

In the end, I went with a chase scene, which was closer to the movie feel that I was trying to replicate anyways. And, it introduced the new problem of what to do with the group now that their exit was buried under tons of rock. They would escape, of course.

The underground portion was based on an excellent game I played some time ago – Avernum. Each exit is guarded in its own way; dragons, hazards, secrets. But there were ways out, and the players would find them.

For anyone of you who write your own adventures, remember. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and anything could inspire you if you need it too. In a few months, my adventure To Catch a Serpent comes out, and it was inspired by a mislabeled cardboard box in a warehouse. Like I said – anything.

Jonathan:  You can read Michael’s adventure “Under His Skin” and any upcoming adventures as they are released as a subscriber to Adventureaweek.com, or alternatively purchase them on RPGnow.com or Paizo.com!