Today AAW Games announced the release of the Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking, compatible with dnd 5E and suitable for use with all tabletop RPGs, this book returns us to the roots of the Underdark with New York Times Best-Selling author Douglas Niles.
This book was originally conceived in 2016, written by Douglas Niles, Thilo Graf, and Stephen Yeardley from 2018-2020, and funded via Kickstarter and Backerkit in 2021, gathering a total of 3,463 backers pledging $211,629 USD to make this project happen.
This module is 60 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, elaving us with 57 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? The PCs, via several different hooks, are coming to the town of Rooknest, a peaceful, isolated town – in which all hell is about to break loose due to an ancient, nefarious plan coming to fruition. More than a decade agao, a wicked hag called Harriot was starting to dread the approach of her final years and her biological clock started ticking its malevolent hum. Being a hag, her only means of reproduction did not fit particularly well with her utterly wicked character and so the weird dreams she had, were quickly heeded: Whispers and dreams spoke of a despicable rite worthy of a hag, including the consumption of the father of the creature to be spawned. True to the formula of fairy-tales, the first two mates were consumed and deemed unfit, granting the hag nevertheless the power to add capabilities of the consumed to the child she conceived from the third father – a child destined to become a hellween, a hybrid werewolf whose very presence is a bane on the land, thinning the boundaries between material and spirit world. What the entity, whose vile whispers spurred the hag onwards didn’t account for is a fraction of maternal instinct, a glimmer of true love between the hag and the wicked werewolf that conceived the child – to give her doomed daughter a chance at a life she could never provide, old Harriot dropped her in the nearby town, sulking back into her swampy domain.
She has been waiting and watching ever since, while the almost forgotten, wicked fertility goddess waited in the wings for her chosen champion to come of full age. When the poor girl turned into a full-blown hellween, she crashed from the temple and fled town, managing not to kill anyone while being guarded by her ghostly father. The curse of her existence and the dark goddesses vile whispers have taken root in Rooknest, though and will keep the PCs rather busy:
The local drunk insists that the “big wolf” is real and while asking him, the PCs will be surprised to see that among the xenophobic, tight-mouthed villagers, some disguised zombies have started drinking in the tavern and gathering outside, making the erupting combat a first glimpse at what’s wrong. The overall module is organized very much like a sandbox of tragedies – from here on, multiple ways are provided for the PCs to conduct their investigation and several stories await their discovery:
There is for example the gravedigger, who, urged by the dark goddesses’ whispers, killed his wife who was unable to bear him children – her ghost now haunts his perpetually gravedigging shovel and laying her to rest may point the PCs towards another component of the puzzle – Harriot has killed the mayor of the town and his family and now shadows the PCs, disguised as him, while the mayor’s revenant is trying to escape his barred mausoleum. Putting said undead to rest and hunting down Harriot is one way to the climax, but just one:
The secretive monks who are researching the transformation of one of their children also know bits and pieces about what is up with the “big wolf”, as does the local smith – if they can get either talking and save the monks from animated suits of armor (which are called skeletons in the text – minor oversight since they use modified skeleton-stats). The local bakery is now haunted by an attic whisperer of a recently-deceased child and throughout the village, the PCs may encounter weird fetishes constructed by an ancient crone, an erstwhile priestess of the wicked goddess that seeks to protect her home.
Via all these small tragedies and encounters, the PCs may pierce together the truth and when they finally slay Harriot, the climax should prove to be interesting: From her blood, a portal to the demiplane-temple of the dark goddess arises and inside, they have the chance to save the sould of the hellween if they soemhow manage to negotiate with her father, not fall to the onslaught of summoned dretches and finally, vanquish the dread exploding-pumpkin-throwing avatar of the goddess that seeks to claim what is “hers”.
The pdf also includes 3 maps and their player-friendly versions.
Editing and formatting, while not bad, are also not perfect – I noticed multiple occasions of jumbled letters, aforementioned minor discrepancy regarding the skeletons etc. Nothing serious, mind you, but enough to slightly detract from the module. Layout adheres to AaW’s 2-column standard and the module comes in 2 versions, one of whihc is backgroundless and printer-friendly. The b/w-artworks are neat, especially the one of the BbEG. The cartography is excellent, as we’ve come to expect by now from AaW. The module comes with herolab-support, though as per the writing of this review, the file has not yet been made available.
This module is interesting in that it’s something we don’t get too often – a sandbox investigation with multiple ways to succeed. It’s also essentially a mix of almost ALL themes associated with horror-adventures – only vampires are missing. Zombies, ghosts, twisted undead, human tragedies, ancient rituals, a curse and an ancient, almost Shub-Niggurath-like entity -all is in here and makes sense. The amount of weirdness going on is one of the good things for the module, since it makes determining what this is all about harder for the PCs and they will actually have to WORK to understand what is going on and use their grey matter. Nice. On the other hand, the themes and respective encounters also make the module feel slightly cluttered with information – the component tragedies are interesting and would have made good investigations in their own right if there was more going on in town, if there were more places to visit and pieces of information to glean. In fact, the one thing I’d consider a flaw of this module is that its final presentation, while good, is not up to its potential. This could be a massively awesome horror-themed megamodule -with about 160 pages, investigations for all component-scenes, each contributing one piece of the big puzzle, this could have been one of the most fitting halloween-modules ever. As provided, it’s a very good sandbox-investigation with some cool scenes that you definitely won’t regret purchasing – especially if you’re willing to do some GM-work and enhance/complicate the component-scenes. Due to the minor glitches and the fact that this would have worked better in a larger scale or as a 2-parter, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 4 stars and a recommendation for GMs looking for some horror-themed bits and pieces to insert in their own modules or willing to expand the per se neat investigation.
This module is 59 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 56 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? Good! Naytella is a goddess of relaxed, pleasure-driven life and one of her adherents, a man named Teatteri is finally settling down, has managed to ingratiate himself within the town of Bankside. Unbeknownst to most, their secret allegiance to the goddess made them clash with conservative authorities before and in order to secure permission to create the theatre, they have allied themselves with doppelgangers seeking the goddesses capability to provide joy and revelry.
Said shapeshifters have since replaced parts of the council and flyers that are charmed do their part in securing the steady flow of audience members to the theatre – after all, the goal is to convert a whole town to the worship of Naytella! The powerful men and women of the town may act as hooks for the PCs and the doppelgangers as foils, presenting us with a concise depiction of their agendas, ways to use them etc., providing a nice framework to set up a complex, smart investigation before entering the (still) closed theatre, where a gamut of theater-themed, clever traps await enterprising PCs.
Before they can reach the cellar of the building, they will also have to best the first group of NPCs. First group? Yes! A total of 4 different NPC-groups are part of the module, each coming with essentially “party-sheets” that include all the necessary pieces of information to run the parties on one page – supremely comfortable for the DM – I approve!
Now the cellar and dungeon below are interesting and highly chaotic in theme, including skulls chanting a litany that confuses the listeners (without deadly effects – the results are hilarious, after all, the servants of Naytella are chaotic and not evil!). The tactics of the servants of Naytella mostly reflect that as well – if the PCs get beaten, it’s not necessarily their end. Now, when they find the intoxicated council alive and well, the PCs will have a tough decision at their hands – free the council? Join the adherents of Naytella? Help them escape the wrath of the citizenry? The options are there and the result up to your players.
It should be noted that the module also includes clothing-material golems as well as 4 pages of maps of the complex, both in a keyed and a keyless version.
The pdf also features the new companion of Naytella PrC, which grants d6, 6+Int skills per level, comes with a wide variety of potential means of entry, good ref and will-saves, 3/4 BAB-progression. The Companions gain the option to use multiple skills (like sleight of hand) at range, their cha-bonus to saves and even a sonic-based breath weapon and attribute boosts. They may also choose from 6 special abilities at 8th level. Solid PrC.
Editing and formatting have already been done better by AaW – I noticed a couple of minor glitches like a zero for an o etc. – nothing too hampering, though. Layout adheres to the backgroundless 2-column standard and the module’s 4 maps in full color are neat indeed. The bookmarks are glitchy, though, missing the bookmarks for the first section of the module. Herolab files have not yet been added as per the writing of this review, but will be part of the deal as soon as they are done.
Make the primary antagonists Calistraeans or extremists of Cayden and this module will work perfectly in Golarion. The module’s antagonists for once not being evil is a cool change of pace, as it makes the PCs ponder their own moral choices and honestly, the sheets to track the NPC-groups are extremely useful to run what would otherwise be very complex encounters. Kudos for the good idea! The location in which it is set as well as the (potential, but mostly optional) investigative backdrop in the beginning adds also a nice touch. Stephen Yeardley has crafted a neat module indeed and overall, I did enjoy reading these pages. The amount of content provided is also appropriate and overall, the module is a fun, thankfully different romp. The issues with the glitches and bookmarks do keep me from rating this higher than my final verdict, though, which will clock in at a solid 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.
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.
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. 😉
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:
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.
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.
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 Iand 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 ALL3modules 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 Iand 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.