Some Game Masters take great pleasure in writing their own adventures; for them, it’s a joy, something they throw themselves into eagerly. Personally, I don’t know how they do it, as I’m always strapped for adventures. Given the sheer amount of work that goes into crafting an adventure, structuring the plot, making maps, constructing stat blocks, it seems like a truckload of work. Hence, I’m always on the lookout for a reliable source of adventures. Sometimes Adventure Paths are good, but other times I want stand-alone adventures that can be used as-is in my game, without worrying about how it plays if removed from a larger context.
Rite Publishing’s new periodical, Adventure Quarterly, seems right up that alley. Let’s take a closer look at the first issue and see what it’s like.
Adventure Quarterly #1 is a weighty affair. Not only is the main magazine just over seventy-five pages in length, but the main PDF file is accompanies by a series of separate map files. These color map files are a combination of JPGs and PNGs of the various maps, in various configurations, such as the maps and keys together, and the maps separately and the keys separately. The quality of these cannot be understated – the files are high resolution, and you can zoom in to a great degree on them. Altogether, the maps are a whopping two hundred megabytes!
The PDF of the magazine is similarly high-quality in its presentation. It has full copy and paste enabled, and full nested bookmarks are to be found. Unfortunately, there’s no printer-friendly version, though there is a printed copy available if you need this on paper. The interior artwork ranges in styles, from detailed black and white to a “washed out”-style full color. None of the pieces were particularly bad, and several of them were quite arresting.
Every publication goes through a few growing pains at first, and right away I noticed one for Adventure Quarterly: the table of contents, while it lists the adventures and their authors, doesn’t list the level it’s intended for. When you look at these adventures, there’s no way to tell whether they’re meant for 1st-level or 20th-level PCs. This alone wouldn’t be so bad, but this information is also not to be found in the adventures themselves. I consider this to be fairly critical information, and so marked off points for this.
The adventures themselves are three in number. The first one, “Too Many Cooks,” appears to be for first-level characters. Set in the city Somnal, for which a full city stat block is helpfully included, this deals with the problem of several chefs suddenly going missing. The author writes that this adventure will likely overwhelm PCs if they go from one encounter to the next in rapid order, and suggests that these scenarios can be broken up across a longer period, and even intermixed with another adventure if you remove the time pressure, something that I felt was good advice.
Structure-wise, Too Many Cooks is something of a mystery adventure, as the PCs are meant to follow a trail of clues from one encounter to the next, until they’re ultimately led to the culprit behind the disappearances. I had some initial misgivings about how this would work, as mysteries have their own problems. The adventure’s answer to this is two-fold – each of the encounters starts with combat, after which there’s a clue that is, in all honesty, too obvious to be missed. That may be a slight overstatement, but the clues are not that difficult to find, and are fairly obvious in where they point. There are still places where things could go off the rails, of course, but the adventure is not so subtle in its workings that getting things back on track would be hard.
I have to mention the final encounter for the adventure, which takes place in a kitchen. Author Adam Diagle did a great job here of playing up the unorthodox nature of how a kitchen can contribute to a battlefield. Between the villain having the feats necessary to use all sorts of improvised weaponry (and a helpful chart of what improvised weapons are available and what their damage is), your PCs will have to deal with everything from being attacked with hot skillets to exploding boilers and vicious meat grinders! I can easily say that this adventure was the highlight of the magazine.
The second adventure, unfortunately, was its polar opposite in terms of quality. “The Book of Promises” is an adventure that wants to be many different things, and in trying to achieve them all ends up completing very few of them.
The premise of the Book of Promises is that a werejackal cult of Asmodeus is trying to make people sign away their souls to the Devil God, which is done in the eponymous Book of Promises. To this end, they’ve created a natural disaster, a flood, in the town of Vestage, so that they can try force people to sign in exchange for being saved from the floodwaters. Rather oddly, the Book is stored in a place in town called the Counter’s Depository, which acts as a private bank – people pay to have them store their valuables. With the Depository also flooded by the town, several of its customers are planning to “steal” back their valuables from the location, and want the PCs to do it for them…which also puts them in position to find the Book of Promises.
The scenario, needless to say, has problems right from the outset. Why would the Asmodean werejackal cult (which sounds like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon) create a flood that would also hit the place where they keep their artifact? Why do the people who have their valuables stored in the Depository feel the need to have them stolen back instead of just going there and retrieving them normally?
It unfortunately doesn’t get any better. The adventure is much too fond of saying that certain effects just happen, giving little specification. When going to the meeting for the thieving job, for example, there’s a magic effect that detects all weapons on the PCs. What is this effect? I don’t know…there’s nothing that says. We don’t know what it is or how to beat it, save for the text saying gloves of storing will work. Similarly, the Depository has magic on it that only allows its customers, or their representatives, inside…something that seems forgotten when we have hags, doppelgangers, and other adventurers in it later. Note that characters that aren’t intended to be fought, such as the PCs competitors for the job and the other adventuring party inside, don’t have a stat block either, which I consider to be somewhat poor, since you never know how your PCs will cause things to go down.
The last adventure, which sadly has its first paragraph as the last paragraph of the previous adventure, is The Soul Siphon. Unlike the previous adventure, The Soul Siphon is fairly well constructed, but comes with some baggage. For one thing, it’s a psionic adventure – now, I personally enjoy psionics quite a bit, but I know there are plenty of Pathfinder gamers for whom that’s a deal-breaker (oddly, the author notes that this uses 3.5 OGL psionics…but from what I saw, the characters seem to use the Psionics Unbound rules). Moreover, the adventure, which is meant for 12th-level characters, comes with four pre-generated characters, and the initial adventure hook is built around those pre-existing ties. That’s just bad design, to me, as it essentially argues that the players shouldn’t have their own characters going into this, which most will. On the other hand, this is perfect if you want to make it as a psionic one-shot.
The Soul Siphon’s premise is that a tyrannical ruler, who lives in a tower that’s slowly sinking into a bog, is terrorizing the local populace, punishing them for a lone dissenter in their ranks. The PCs meet this dissenter (who is connected to one of them via their back-story), and give them the keys to enter a sunken level of the tower, wherein they can fight their way up and confront not only the tyrant, but also locate the artifact that has gifted him with apparent immortality, and put and end to both.
The adventure is fairly well-constructed, and seems to presume that the PCs will level up over the course of it. Two appendices provide both a new monster, and the four pregen PCs.
Following the final adventure, two short articles are given. The first, by Raging Swan Press mastermind Creighton Broadhurst, is a short set of tables to determine the name of a tribe. The article basically uses a series of combinations from different tables to come up with a colorful moniker (though a quick table at the beginning is available if you want to restrict things to one roll). Following this is an overview of the werejackal cult of Asmodeus, giving their structure, base of operations, allies and enemies, and other general information about them. As its own thing, this wasn’t bad, though I do wish that Paizo’s organization rules had been imported here. Still, the group does make a passable, if somewhat odd, villainous organization.
Overall, the first issue of Adventure Quarterly hits a few bumps in the road, but does show promise. The level listing for adventures is something that absolutely has to be fixed for the second issue, as at-a-glance information about what sort of PCs each adventure is intended for is an absolute must. Beyond that, the first adventure is clearly the cream of the crop, providing a fun little “mystery-lite” for low-level PCs. The second adventure, however, is as much a mess as the flooded town it takes place in, and a Game Master will likely need to give it a polish to make it workable as-is. The last adventure is good but carries several caveats for prospective GMs – if you take it as a trial run for psionics, it’s not bad, but if you want it to be more than a one-shot, or hate psionics, be prepared to start changing things.
Given that what’s good here outnumbers that which isn’t, my overall score for the debut issue of Adventure Quarterly is 3.5 stars, but I’m rounding it up to four since even the bad material can be saved or altered with a little elbow grease. What’s here is three-quarters good, and that’s not bad for the first Adventure Quarterly.
[4 of 5 Stars!]