Dark Waters, written by Ron Lundeen, weighs in at 36 pages (with roughly 8 of those tied up in covers, OGL, Ads, credits, intros and such). Following the dual column format approach, the PDF carries the typical clean and crisp look one has come to expect from the Raging Swan camp. Cartography is reminiscent of the retro camp, with a hand drawn feel, but in all the right ways. Artwork is stock, with most of it coming from the Elmore collection and being used to support the collection of pre-generated characters at the end of the adventure (six of them total). Set in the town of Swallowfield, the adventure is written with more then enough detail to take advantage of without the source material PDF for this town also released by Raging Swan, but I would recommend a GM pick it up regardless, as it is filled with some extremely useful material in regards to this town, and will greatly help flesh out the community better for one's PC's. It should also be noted that the community of Swallowfield is within the Lonely Coast setting, also available from Raging Swan, and a setting you should seriously think about adding to your collection as it is filled with excellently written material as well. This adventure offers up a quick cheat sheet (if you will) of the specifics of the Lonely Coast in the form of a one page write up accompanied via full page cartography. The same approach to giving specifics beyond the scope of this adventure are handled for Swallowfield itself as well, a one page write up covering town info, and a full page overland cartography.
OK, we all know what's coming, right? Spoilers...so, players, BEGONE!!!!!!!!!! Seriously, time for GM's to talk, go polish your dice, or plan your next GM appreciation party or something, we'll let you know when you can come back...OK, so now that it's just us GM's, let us discuss this adventure module, shall we?
Swallowfield has an issue, and that issue falls within the realm of the player's bread and butter. The local mill has just managed to break through to an ancient crypt, falling into the hole and beginning the flooding of these previously unknown lower chambers. Now, in and of itself, that is not the issue, it is the series of ghouls and undead living within the crypts that are the issue, as they spill out and begin kidnapping folks to present them to their leader to be turned into additional undead to serve him. The local guards do what they do best, try to save the day and turn themselves into more people who need to be rescued. See, told you it was a problem suited for the players. Mr. Lundeen has written a classic dungeon crawl with all of the feel of a rushed pace thanks to not only the idea that you must get to the kidnapped townsfolk before it is to late to save them from an undead conversion, but also that the river is flooding this series of dungeon, and therefore adding to not only the difficulty of traversing the terrain, but the sheer amount of time the playgroup can function as they delve further from the only way out and back to air. Add to the environmental dangers of the flooding and collapsed building, we've got the undead who have no fear of the rising water, and are at a serious advantage when it comes to attacks within flooded areas, the original guardians and traps of the dungeon complex, and a moral issue for the players. Two of the victims are not what one might call so virtuous, being members of an evil cult. GM's are giving the opportunity to allow their PC's to explore the moral complications of being tasked to save the less then desirable within a community, and possibly leading one of them back to a more virtuous path in so doing. Well done in including such a concept, as I love to see the levels of difficulty and challenge be about more than simply smash, kill, retrieve and run. Remembering that a PC's actions affect everything around them, in a world filled with more greys than black and whites, throwing in a moral issue of “do we or don't we save the bad folks?” is a great addition,in my book.
The crypt offered up for this rescue adventure is in fact a burial chamber for the head of an order of monks, known as Odwain. When interring their leader's body to his final rest, the monk came under attack, and found themselves sealed in. Over a span of weeks, several died out from starvation, others took to the route of cannibalism, and began the transformation into ghouls. Upon opening their former master's tomb seeking food these ghouls discovered that his will had not passed on, and he had in fact returned as a crypt thing. Reclaiming his position of mastery over what remained of his order, Odwain and his followers, now an eternal threat, waited in the dark for the day that release would come.
Cartography for the crypt itself gives us a birdseye view as well as a sidecut, helping drastically in understanding the depth levels for the differing sections of the tomb in relation to each other so as to be able to properly handle the flood effect of the river pouring through the mill wheel's breach point. The cartography again carries with it a very retro feel, staying in theme with the two overland maps.
Danger starts right off the bat in this adventure, with the PC's facing starving ghouls within minutes of the initial mill accident, as some ghouls attack whilst others kidnap and retreat. Following them into the wreckage the PC's will find a group of local town's guard have already attempted to give chase, and have gotten themselves pinned within the breach point, and will surely drown if not saved. From there the PC's are set to face a trio of carytid columns within the first room they enter of the tomb, and that's after figuring out how to get in safely in the first place (it is a height of roughly thirty feet, accessed through a hole that a river is rushing through, to a floor covered in rocks and debris...not the most ideal circumstances for entry). The PC's can utilize the waterwheel as a makeshift ladder as it comes within 5' of the ground, dealing of course with the water making the climb hazardous.
From the entrance chamber the group proceeds to a training chamber, complete with pressure point floor tiles that unleash javelin traps, and an automaton in the form of a four armed training construct, albeit with one broken arm and a state of constant breakage and repair. Very cool concept for a room in a setting of this nature, would have loved to have seen any form of artwork depicting the training construct to better visualize what exactly the author had in mind with this design.
A meditation chamber occupied by our first kidnap victim and a blind ghast are on the menu next, with that blind ghast being far from at a disadvantage. An interesting room that offers a glimpse into who these monks were in life as the depictions of carvings and illustrations adorning these walls where they meditated give a great deal of information upon the teachings of Odwein in life to his disciples. An excellent form of delivering this style of information to a playgroup, subtle enough that you aren't beating them over the head with it, and yet just enough hook and catch for a craftier playgroup to snag on and start analyzing. Well done, well done indeed. Our victim, if rescued, bravely offers to join the quest, although he is a woefully under-equipped wizard, having had his components and wand taken and destroyed...leaving the group with a living possible liability to decide how to handle.
The treasure chamber preceding the main burial chamber comes complete with an old timey combination lock of large stone buttons depicting different carvings, of which the PC's need to not only figure out which keys they actually need, but what order to press them in, to gain access to the hidden treasure room. A very cool puzzle, and one that while it may slow a group and force them to think, should be solvable by all but the most puzzle resistant groups out there as long as they are paying attention to the details of the dungeon. Each stone button is detailed in illustration which is insanely helpful in my opinion, as those images can easily be extracted and printed out for a playgroup to be able to work with making the puzzle a much more hands on encounter for them, which adds a great level of interactivity and fun.
The burial chamber finally brings us to the encounter between Odwain the crypt thing and the PCs. Odwain has taken his stone sarcophagus as a throne of sorts, standing it on end, giving him a height of ten feet, putting him at quite a stretch for most PCs with melee weaponry unless they also have reach. He opens attack with his Teleporting Burst ability, scattering the PCs around his dungeon, possibly to points underwater, and releases his ghouls to attack the stronger members of the group while he focuses on the weakest. Unable to leave his own burial chamber, Odwain none the less has a fairly proficient method of assault. It is within this chamber that the remaining four kidnap victims will all be found, chained to Odwain's sarcophagus, and suffering from ghoul fever due to multiple bites.
The adventure wraps up with the returning of the victims to the town, the potential interactions with the two cultists amongst the kidnap victims, and a couple of potential hooks to continue adventuring in this locale.
All in all a well written, fast paced adventure with an emphasis on a stress filled rescue operation against an entrenched enemy with the advantage of home field in their favor. Bringing to the table all of the great things about a classic dungeon trek without bogging down to deep into unnecessary side paths, this is a focused and well handled adventure, and one that could easily give a playgroup a great night of fun. Well worth the price of admission, and an easily given 5 star rating!
[5 of 5 Stars!]