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EZG reviews the FREE A0 – Crow’s Rest Island

 A0 – Crow’s Rest Island

This module is 23 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a total of 19 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

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

All right, still here?

After a short introduction to the area in which it is set in the default campaign setting of AdventureaWeek.com – essentially, the PCs will be people of the Klavekian kingdom, largest of the human realms and sent to the icy frontier of the kingdom to help the settlement Rybalka, which lies right at the border of Vikmordere-territory: Feared savages that could be considered a wild blending of Viking and Native American cultures. That out of the way, the module kicks off without much ado – the PCs are traveling en route to Rybalka for fame and fortune and on their way, they’ll need to pass the notorious “Crow’s Rest Island”.

When passing the island on their ship of Vikmordere-build (which comes fully mapped in gorgeous detailed full color with  maps (on deck, below deck, in a snow-storm and in full-blown snow-storm – awesome), they are forced ashore by the weather and see a weird white crow. In the island’s woods, they encounter a party of kobolds and it is also here, the PCs can start to piece together what has happened here. When kobolds were washed ashore on this island, their shaman summoned an ice demon to get rid of the local Vikmordere population. The wild men, confronted with the demonic entity faced annihilation and in order to save them, an adopted Vikmordere attempted a ritual that was interrupted by the kobolds. This ritual gone haywire has trapped the spirits of the Vikmordere on the island. The lavishly illustrated village of the Vikmordere contains the remnants of the kobolds and there, amid ghostly visions, the PCs can secure the missing item for the ritual and help the spirits of the dead find peace.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to AaW’s latest 2-column standard with its more streamlined boxes and easier to read fonts and the artworks in full color range from awesome (vista of the village) to not-so-awesome (cover). As I’ve come to expect from AaW, the cartography is simply stellar and especially the weather and its effect on the ship is AWESOME. A great idea and something I’d love to see used in other modules as well. If you register at Adventureaweek.com, you can also download for free all artworks (including a handouts through a spyglass), profiles of the AaW-iconics, high-res jpegs of all the maps, png-tokens for NPCs and adversaries and herolab-files. While usually I would complain about a lack of a backgroundless version of the pdf, this module is free, so it gets a pass on this one. The pdf is extensively fitted with nested bookmarks.

There are sometimes modules that as written are not too exciting, but spark the imagination via iconic locales, nice presentation etc. and this is one of them: The location presented in the module is cool, creepy and offers quite some potential for expansion by the DM – and expanded it should be, for the simple encounters fall flat of the awesomeness of the backdrop. Indeed, I wished this was not a free prequel module, but rather a full-blown haunting-investigation. Think about it: Traps in the wood, a deserted village, the sense of being watched, mysterious crows, weather worsening and keeping the PCs stranded on the place and then, the strange hauntings begin – every DM worth his salt can construct a complex investigation from this yarn instead of handing out the solution to what happened on a silver platter to the PCs. Were this a commercial module, that would exactly be what I’d complain about. It’s FREE, though, and every module that excites me enough to even contemplate expanding it like I just described is worth downloading and in fact, does a great job. Were I only to rate the module as it can be seen in the pdf, I’d probably go for 4 or 3 stars, depending on a hypothetical price. But since this pdf is free, comes with good production values and sparks one’s imagination, I’ll instead settle on a solid verdict of 5 stars – come on, it’s free and you know you at least want to scavenge the maps. 😉

Endzeitgeist out.

Link to download A0: Crow’s Rest Island

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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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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.