The following is a review of the PDF version of Magique Production's OSRIC™ Compatible Module RAM3 "Realms of Arkonus: Advent of Darkness", written by Thomas J. Scott. In the interests of full dislosure the reader of this review should be aware of 2 items. First, I was given an evaluation copy free of charge by Magique Productions. Second, I am one of the contributing editors to the OSRIC project.
Right out of the box "Realms of Arkonus: Advent of Darkness" (AoD) creates a good, solid first impression. The strong title lettering and graphic layout immediately call to mind the spirit of the old school games the OSRIC rules recreate. Cover art is beautiful; a well executed representation of two blue dragons flying in the foreground, a mysterious castle amongst the clouds behind them. We found the overall affect to be pleasing to the eye, with the cover managing to both give a nod to "old school" module design while presenting more forward looking and professional artwork. The teaser beneath the artwork gives an accurate, if somewhat dry, summary of the module and includes the always useful information of number and level of characters for which the adventure is designed. The back cover of the module gives off more of a feeling of excitement, calling to mind a great quest and giving a quick overview of the milieu in which the adventure takes place at the same time. The back cover also notes the module was an official tournament module at Gen Con and Origins, establishing a good pedigree for the material.
The clean, professional layout and excellent artwork continue inside the module. Organization of the material is very intuitive also, with 3 major divisions of the adventure contained within; each with a corresponding appendix complete with player handouts and additional NPC information. Any information intended solely for the GM is clearly marked. The maps are clearly drawn and uncluttered, providing just the right amount of information. There are also handy aids for the overworked GM, such as a table for generating the results of searching non-keyed abandoned buildings in the town of Oszeroc, or, names and personalities of the horses which may be provided to the PCs should they need them. Little touches like this make preparing this module for play a snap. Though AoD is a milieu specific module, the author has done a fine job of including guidelines allowing GMs to adapt the material to their own campaigns, if desired.
The storyline revolves around a long ago conflict between a great evil and the people of Arkonus. At great cost, the evil was driven back and the portal through which it entered the realm was sealed. Now, after a thousand years the evil has returned; a magical gate opening into a realm of Evil has opened in the Realms of Arkonus. The High Mage of the Tower City, a former patron of the adventurers, has summoned their aid once again. The players must reclaim powerful artifacts and reseal the portal. Lest one think the plot sounds too familiar, let us give assurance it is not. As is often the case in a world of magic, not everything is as it seems.
The adventure itself is coherently written and provides a variety of challenges. One aspect of this module we really admired was a concept that ran strong through many of the original RPG campaigns of the 1970s: rushing in to do battle will get a party slaughtered, whereas clever use of PC skills will allow the party to successfully achieve its goal. Lovers of battle need not despair, the party is in for some action no matter how clever they fancy themselves.
Downchecks are minor but we will mention a few areas of concern. There are a few editing issues which come to mind but we will refrain from mentioning them because as this review is being written 2 updates have already been made available to the material. Another problem this reviewer had with the module had to do with format, we would certainly want a hardcopy of the module should we ever decide to run it in our home campaign. Flipping back on forth, on-screen, from the main text to the appendices and maps gets quite tiresome. One last point should be raised, and that is the setting specificity of the module. This is not a problem for many old-school GMs, most of us rewrite commercial products before using them (The Realms of Arkonus Campaign Setting is in the works by Magique, by the way). It may be a problem for fledgling GMs, but what would a young GM be doing with 10th level players in his or her home campaign, anyway?
A common syndrome with tournament based material is known as railroading, defined as a linear plot which PCs must follow from point A to point B to complete. AoD was derived from a tournament module, but we feel author Thomas J. Scott has done a good job of adding material that removes, or at least obscures, the linear nature of the plot and adds good adventure hooks to pull the players from one chapter to the next.
Pros: good presentation of material, good exterior and interior art, entertaining plot.
Cons: setting specific plot (though good advice for adapting it is included), some minor editing issues, some plot railroading issues.
Bottom line: an excellent module, polished and professionally presented. Based upon this material, we plan to follow Magique Production's line of OSRIC modules with great interest.
[5 of 5 Stars!]