It’s always nice when Monte comes back to deliver just one more Third Edition product. While he officially retired from making new game materials a while ago, every so often he releases another product or two as it suits him. One, or rather, two such project was The Book of Experimental Might (and its sequel) which introduced a number of variant rules and new materials for 3.5. Now, Monte has released an adventure, Dark Tidings, which puts those new materials into play.
To be clear up front, Dark Tidings not only makes use of new rules from both Books of Experimental Might, but is also set within Ptolus, Monte’s City by the Spire campaign setting. Ironically, despite the fact that this adventure is made for use with the BoXM, it’s the Ptolus material that really seems more noticeable. Beyond being set within Ptolus itself, and having a number of connections to various aspects of the book, it’s written in the same style as Ptolus, where there are margins on the side of each page filled with notes, and in many cases references to particular pages or sections of Ptolus.
The adventure itself is a fairly short dungeon crawl (though there’s plenty of backstory and exposition leading up to that, along with an inspired suggestion for getting the action started immediately), where the PCs are sent on a rescue mission after a group of adventurers that went missing a little while ago. The dungeon itself is brief – less than a dozen rooms – but in true Monte style, it’s not what you’d call straightforward. There are different factions of monsters fighting over the dungeon, as well as a magical effect that’s throwing a (story-based) monkey wrench into things, all as the PCs hunt for survivors and try to get out alive themselves.
So how exactly does this book use the BoXM rules? And is it usable if you just want to run it as a “straight” 3.5 adventure? In fact, there’s really one answer to both of these questions – specifically, that there are almost no (full) stat blocks to be found here. Most of the creatures have just very brief notes regarding things like their hit points, along with specific changes from the BoXM rules (which is mostly just giving them a few extra feats). Only three characters have their full stats presented here, and it’s here that the BoXM rules are used as defaults (such as having spells re-ordered over twenty spell levels). Given that, it’s really not that difficult to use this as a normal 3.5 adventure, were you so inclined; just ignore the rules changes for most encounters, and reverse-engineer the three characters with full stat blocks (which is mostly just eliminating a few feats and giving them normal spells prepared).
When all’s said and done, my honest impression of Dark Tidings was that it really seemed to showcase Ptolus more than it did the Book of Experimental Might. The city-campaign’s trappings were layered heavily throughout the adventure, to the point where they honestly seemed to overshadow the use of the new rules from the BoXM. This isn’t to say that said new rules aren’t put to good use here – it’s just easy to lose sight of that. The problem, I think, is that the BoXM is ultimately designed with players and their PCs in mind; as such, using NPCs to showcase it doesn’t work too well – the changes are too subtle to really be noticed by anyone other than the GM, particularly in a published adventure which is giving at least some deference to being compatible with the normal 3.5 rules. I really liked Dark Tidings – it’s a good adventure, and it deserves to have full marks – but it doesn’t seem like it’s showing off the Book of Experimental Might the way it’s supposed to.