When angry invective passes itself off as a review, I feel compelled to speak out.
While every reviewer has the right to voice his or her personal opinion, I feel that a one-star review must work to justify its damning criticism as much as a five-star review must explain its effusive praise. A credible reviewer also strives to separate personal disappointment with what they expected a product to be, from their assessments of the strengths and weakness of what that product actually is …
I already reviewed the preview edition of Spire of the Raven God from Black Death Publishing once before. When the preview edition was rescinded, my review vanished. So here I am again, trying to present a balanced look at Spire of the Raven God.
IS IT REALLY A ONE-STAR PRODUCT?
No. While not perfect, Spire of the Raven God by Rex Baker and Joe Calkins deserves at least another star for its layout, design, beautiful color artwork, and maps alone. A single star indicates the worst of the worst; a product with no redeeming qualities or features, not worth purchasing at any price. Spire of the Raven God is far, far better than this.
SO WHAT'S GOOD ABOUT IT?
Spire of the Raven God is a d20/OGL Dungeons and Dragons adventure written by Rex Baker, and designed for 4 to 6 characters of levels 8 to 12. It's set in Black Death Publishing's campaign world of Hanan Pacha, but the setting is merely background here, and should mesh effortlessly with most baseline D&D campaign worlds, in any event.
As mentioned above, the color art by Joe Calkins and Butch Mapa is quite beautiful -- an obvious cut above what one expects to see in products by third-party start-up publishers like Black Death. The art certainly helps to sell the mood and tone of the adventure.
There are also a number of full-color encounter maps, already gridded with five-foot squares, and showing suggested starting positions for enemies.
Particularly overworked (or lazy!) DMs could probably extract and print the images directly, and lay them out on the game table at need. Anything which helps lessen the tactical burden on the DM is worthwhile in my book.
What else? The text font is large and legible. The read-aloud boxed text is clearly marked and set apart from the main text -- so clearly. in fact, that if you can't spot the read-aloud text while at your gaming table, you've probably fallen asleep behind the screen without realizing it, and your players are busily rifling through your notes.
Two new creatures -- the Woodstalker and the Kameon -- are introduced, complete with statistics and accompanying illustrations. Nothing beats being able to say to players "And you see … this!" And then to listen to the rules lawyers squeal in dismay as they realize that they haven't got these monster stats memorized already.
Perhaps Spire of the Raven God's greatest strength is the obvious enthusiasm writer Rex Baker has for the adventure itself. The thirty-nine pages (forty-three counting the covers and the legal pages) are packed with relevant information. Baker makes a clear effort to give DMs everything they might need, in full, for their money.
The adventure itself is a mix of early wilderness encounters, followed by a little underground exploration, capped off with the invasion of the titular Raven Spire, and a confrontation with a customized Big Bad Evil Guy, whom I will not spoiler here. In short, something for every D&D play style.
WHAT'S NOT SO GOOD?
Well, there are some typos in the stat blocks. But there are also similar typos in the stat blocks of most products routinely put out by Wizards of the Coast, so make of that what you will.
It doesn't make the typos any less unfortunate, and if such things are your pet peeve, so be it -- but they hardly warrant a one-star rating for the entire product, or the summary execution of all involved.
In Black Death Publishing's defense, this revised edition has many of the typos corrected, and most of those errors which remain are easily identified and corrected on-the-fly as needed.
Another problem I had with this adventure is that most of the enemies encountered are very familiar to anyone who's been playing D&D for a while. Outside of the two new monsters mentioned above, and the customized Big Bad, you'll be running into familiar monster faces such as Orcs with Barbarian levels, Hags, and so forth …
Perhaps I'm just spoiled (and perhaps Black Death is trying to balance the old against the new, for wider appeal), but I tend to glaze over a bit when I see orcs … again.
Finally, the epic battle against the tweaked-out Big Bad could be a bit over the player characters' heads at 12th level. The adventure offers options for various sorts of NPC assistance in the battle, but I know that some gamers dislike this, as it makes them feel like they're not succeeding on their own.
DMs are advised to look over the grand encounter as written, and decide what would work best to make the final showdown appropriate for their particular group of players. Some DM tinkering may be required to make this happen.
SO, IS IT WORTH IT?
Yes, I do think so. While not flawless, Spire of the Raven God shows a genuine enthusiasm for the material, and a real willingness to give the buyers more for their money.
Most of the problems are minor, and can be corrected with a minimum of DM effort.
While Black Death Publishing may not have hit every note perfectly here, with Spire of the Raven God, it's an admirable first effort from a fledgling small publisher. It bodes well for good things to come in the Hanan Pacha product line..
WHAT'S THE VERDICT?
Spire of the Raven God is worth 3 out of 5 stars, under the harshest conditions. Myself, I'm inclined to give it 4 stars, because it's jam-packed with material, and it makes an obvious effort at every turn to give the DM everything he or she might need to have fun.
Final verdict: 4 out of 5 stars. A worthy, well-intentioned first effort from Black Death Publishing.