THE SHORT VERSION
A 100% kobold-free first-level adventure for D&D 4E. Temple of Outsiders is both interesting and worthwhile, consistently doing more than “the same old first-level thing, the same old first-level way”.
Let’s face it: most first-level D&D adventures suck, because they read like they were written on autopilot by authors who didn’t care, and couldn’t wait to get on to writing higher level “good stuff”.
There’s usually a farming town, and they’re usually under threat by kobolds. Why kobolds? Because kobolds are the weakest of the D&D monsters, so that’s what you pit against first-level characters if you’re writing by the numbers.
Happily, authors Jesse Butler and Matthew Peronto aren’t writing by the numbers in Fanig Entertainment’s adventure Temple of Outsiders. Sure, there’s a town – but it’s not your typical town – and sure, they’ve got trouble – but it’s not your typical trouble. Best of all, there are no kobolds anywhere. Butler and Peronto have crated up the yippy little dog-lizards, and shipped them off to parts unknown.
What impresses me most about Temple of Outsiders is the obvious enthusiasm the authors bring to their work. There’s a real sense here that they want to bring something fresh and interesting and useful back to beginning adventuring.
There are a number of intriguing new monsters here, and a clever trap or two, all of which suit the adventure – but any of which could be used outside the context of the adventure as well. Even if you don’t want to run Temple of Outsiders as written, I think its still worth stealing from at every opportunity for your use in your home campaign.
Visually, the product is quite nice. While it’s not as graphically slick as the sort of thing put out by WotC or Green Ronin, there’s color throughout, clear and useful maps, appropriate illustrations, and a conscious effort to reproduce the recognizable stat block and information formats used in the D&D4e core books.
I guess that’s the thing here – you can sense the thought and the effort that went into making Temple of Outsiders. While most first-level adventures are typically the height of lazy simplistic design, the authors behind Temple of Outsiders are obviously pushing to keep their material interesting and entertaining at all points, whenever possible.
Even the basic plot hook in ToO is not the typical “go here, kill whatever isn’t you” cliche seen in most first-level adventures. Sure, it’s a site based adventure, but there’s a mystery driving things, and a sense of exploration informing the players’ actions.
Something’s gone deeply strange in an ancient ruin, and the players not only have to deal with the results of this, but they also need to figure out what’s causing the problems, and why.
Every D&D campaign needs a low-level starting point for the characters; Temple of Outsiders is one of the best pre-made options for this that I’ve seen in quite a while. As above, even if you don’t use it as written, there are a number of new monsters, traps, and encounter bits worth stealing.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD?
If I could change one thing about Temple of Outsiders, it would probably be the cover. The cover illustration IS good -- once you’ve bought the product and can actually see it up-close – but that’s the problem.
The postage-stamp size product icons used on RPGNow have reduced the cover design of Temple of Outsiders to an indistinguishable grey-bordered brown blob. It doesn’t matter how good the cover art actually is, if no one can actually see it.
While none of this is Fanig Entertainment’s fault, of course – RPGNow sets the display guidelines – I would hope that, for their next release, Fanig puts together a cover design which can still catch the eye, even when shrunk down to tiny proportions. Look at how the slick publishers do it routinely … WotC, Goodman Games, Green Ronin, Malhavoc, and all the rest.
And, not to put too fine a point on it, if all else fails, why not put a pretty female character or creature on your cover? It doesn’t have to be cheesy, or sleazy, or sexist – merely attractive.
You want a browsing customer to pause long enough to give your product the closer look it deserves, so that you can sell them on the details. Given the buyer demographic at RPGNow, an attractive female on the cover would likely provide you that moment’s opportunity.
So … the cover, when shrunk down, doesn’t call to a browsing viewer the way one might hope it would. This is a shame, really, because the cover illustration is worthy, and Temple of Outsiders is worth a closer look.
THE FINAL VERDICT
Temple of Outsiders from Faning Entertainment is a solid, intriguing first-level adventure for D&D4e. What it lacks in surface glossiness, it more than makes up for with its dedication to providing an engaging and entertaining gaming experience. Even those who don’t plan to run the adventure as written will find ideas and game-table material worth plundering.
I’d give this product five stars for dedication and execution alone, but five star ratings here on RPGNow are now so commonplace as to be meaningless. Readers skip past them. So, we’ll call it a four out of five, in the hopes of attracting a few curious readers – and blame it on that unfortunate cover layout, if we must.