Dark Waters Rising $4.99
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/20/2012 07:30:12
This pdf is 36 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages advertisement, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC/foreword, 1 page on how to use the adventure, 1 page advice on how to read statblocks, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving a total of 26 pages of content, so let's check this out!

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

Still here? Okay! The Lonely Coast, Raging Swan's unique (and FREE!) mini-setting is home to a plethora of interesting people and tribes and also the location of a town called Swallowfeld - a frontiers town that is fully depicted in its own excellent location supplement, also available from Raging Swan Press. While Swallowfeld serves as the default location of the module, just about any other village could also be used, so a maximum of insertability into a given campaign is guaranteed. For those not owning the supplement, a short run-down of notable characters is given in the beginning. But onwards to the adventure: Once an order of monks under the command of one Odwain lived where now the city of Swallowfeld can be found and said monks found an untimely death when they were sealed in a crypt they excavated, which promptly collapsed on them, curtesy of their foes. In recent decades, Swallowfeld's stream, the Kilian, has changed course and ran right over the buried and sealed complex, now home to the tormented undead. Erosion and the construction of a mill right atop the complex also took their toll and thus, the grist mill collapses. Having been warned of the impending collapse, the crypt thing mastermind of the undead strikes and has his ghoulish minions kidnap the closest unsuspecting villagers to swell teh ranks of his undead lackeys. When the city's would-be rescuers under the leadership of half-orc Fang Reterson also get trapped in the mill, it falls to the PCs to mount a rescue, this time hopefully successful...

But before we jump into the adventure per se, 4 pages detail not only the lonely coast at a glance, locations of note etc. and the village of Swallowfeld, including 2 neat b/w-maps - then we're off to the very first encounter, the grist mill collapse, where in an obscuring cloud, the Pcs will have to face off against ghoul initiates hunting for more villagers to abduct and not only have a cool introductory encounter including obscuring clouds, but also suffer the potential danger of dust explosions. In order to rescue Feng and his men, the Pcs will have to succeed at a cool skill-challenge like social encounter in which they calm down the men and finally get them free - then, it's all about going down into the crypt - which slowly floods. The cool, cool, cool component of this adventure is the slowly rising water and the sense of urgency it imparts on the players - thus, we also get several stages of progressively harder conditions if the Pc dawdle: Where soggy, few inches deep water only marginally hinders acrobatics, 4-5 foot deep water means 4 squares of movement and an impossibility to tumble as well as required swimming by small characters...
Worse, the crypt is slightly sloped and the further the Pcs progress the deeper the water will be. In the second adventure by Ron Lundeen I reviewed, Headless Hydra Games "Wreck of the Keening Crone" I complained about exactly such a thing missing and here we are - an adventure devoted to it: Very cool indeed! Even better that we get a full sidebar listing all the consequences of fighting in water next to the one page beautiful b/w map of the complex alongside a miniature side-view of it.

This module pulls no punches and the very first battle, a struggle against the 3 Caryatid Column guardians is but a taste of the things to come as well as a cool foreshadowing technique, for the statues depict the boss of this module - oh, and of course they have navigate the moving water-wheel of the tumbled mill in order to gain access... Each of the rooms in the module, btw., has the time elapsed and the relative water-levels listed in a comprehensive list - commendable service for the DM. In order to proceed, the PCs will also have to brave the monk's training grounds and thus, their training construct and traps, which may prove to be rather challenging. Jory Mayne, the town's conjurer, is the captive of one of the most iconic creatures herein, the blind ghast monk Garsel: While blind, the ghast monk should still prove to be a formidable foe, even when hassled by the captive wizard's acid darts - I can wait to have my players get pummeled by this cool adversary, especially due to the room's pillars and walls emitting a short glow, but making all the rest of the room rather dark and a stealth+15 is nothing to be sneered at...

And then, the adventure starts to become truly awesome, at least in my opinion: The chamber before the bosses room contains a cool puzzle that can be solved via smart deduction and the correct sequence of stonepanels bearing pictures. Even better, no skill-checks are necessary to solve it - plain old logic and deduction from the players are all that's required. Even better, the panels all get their own pieces of b/w-artworks. Puzzle with graphic representation? HELL YEAH! Oh, and while skills can be used by the DM to sprinkle hints, both the time-limit and potentially misleading information can be a hindrance if the players think they can just roll the problem away. PCs don't necessarily need to solve this puzzle, though. What they do need to accomplish is defeating the crypt-thing Odwain on its sarcophagus-throne, his ghoulish initiates and save the remaining villagers - before the whole complex and the innocents are drowned.

As a further twist, not all of the captives are especially good people - dread cultists of Braal are among them and might serve as further complications/antagonists. Also a great way to nest this adventure in a cult-investigation, by the way! Even better, if you choose to do so, redemption for one of the evil-doers and freedom from the person's tragic past is only one intense roleplaying encounter away. The pdf also provides 3 rather interesting options for further adventuring for DMs to develop and closes with 6 pregens.

Editing and formatting are top-notch, as I've come to expect from both Raging Swan and Run Amok Press. Layout adheres to RSP's crisp and elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the artworks and cartography are quite nice indeed. The pdf comes with full bookmarks and two versions, one optimized for the printer and one for screen-use. It should be noted that zips of the maps and the tifs of the sigils of the puzzle can be downloaded on as web-enhancements.
Ron Lundeen is an excellent adventure-author and has proven so for several companies, none the least his own Run Amok Games brand and this module is no exception. The synergy with Swallowfeld is unobtrusive, but adds a nice edge and continuity to the whole module. The idea to delve into a flooding dungeon is awesome and add to that social encounters and a professionally-presented puzzle and we have a stellar scenario including some awesome antagonists. However, I still have some (minor) complaints:
The first being that there is no player-friendly map without numbers etc. to chop up and hand to your PCs. The second is the brevity of the module. While it's a fast-paced romp and keeping the pressure of the flooding necessarily makes this module a stressful one for the PCs, I would have enjoyed some branching paths, some special treasures that can only be unearthed by fast PCs or special complications at a certain water heights, like acidic sludge seeping from long-defunct traps etc. - if you take the pregen-section away, you're left with only 19 pages of adventure.

Excellent, cool adventure, yes. But I can't help but feel that making the module more complex and longer could have easily made this a legendary adventure - perhaps we'll see a slowly flooding city one of these days as a sequel...please? But back to the verdict: It is due to these factors that I will omit my seal of approval, which this module would otherwise fully deserve and add a caveat to my verdict: If the brevity is a factor for you, you may wish to detract a star, but not more - the module is still a great offering. For me personally, I still will settle on 5 stars for this nail-biting, old-schoolish and fast-paced dungeon-crawl.

Endzeitgeist out.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Dark Waters Rising
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