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:
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.
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.
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!