While it’s common for sourcebooks to get the glory in tabletop role-playing games, it’s adventures that are their lifeblood. After all, while it can be fun to create various characters and tweak builds, all of that effort is just a prelude to really putting your character through his or her paces in an adventure, seeing if they can survive, and thrive, in the adventures that the GM has in store for them, adventures such as those of Rite Publishing’s Adventure Quarterly #2.
A ninety-page adventure, AQ2 has three adventures, wisely split among the low, mid, and high levels. Insightfully, the table of contents tells you this without preamble, giving you a brief description of the adventures and letting you know that they’re for parties of 1st, 9th, and 18th-level characters.
We’ll go over the adventures, but before we do some technical aspects of the book must be addressed. For one thing, AQ2 is not just a PDF file. A half-dozen files, a mixture of PINGs and JPEGs, display the maps for the adventures. Each adventure has one map with the labels, and one without any labels, something that I was particularly pleased by. Made with Dundjinni, the maps aren’t anything to write home about, but at the same time aren’t slap-dash quality either – rather, they look like what they are: a pro-am production made with mapping software.
The PDF which is the bulk of the product hits the technical marks you’d expect it to; copy-and-paste is enabled, and full nested bookmarks are present. The book is set against a white background, and has only a thin border around the pages. Several pieces of full-color art break up the text in various places – including the maps, which are placed into the body of each adventure (something I found helpful, rather than redundant) – but overall the illustrations are sparse enough to strike a nice balance between being relatively printer-friendly while still featuring pictures.
After the editorial for this issue, we’re sent directly to the first adventure, “The Ruins Perilous.” Meant for 1st-level characters, the Ruins Perilous has something of an odd plot, in that it expects the characters to be heading to a dungeon that’s set up strictly as a proving ground for adventurers – those who can overcome the dungeon’s obstacle can join the adventurer’s society that sponsors the dungeon.
I personally found this particular back-story to be a bit thin, partially because it leans on Rite Publishing’s only-vaguely-described Questhaven setting, and partially because having the PCs run through a “training” dungeon feels somehow of less import than if they were going through a “real” one.
That’s really the major critique for the first adventure, because the rest of the dungeon is fairly well designed. I particularly liked, for example, the bit about who keeps the dungeon in ready shape for adventurers, and it wouldn’t take much to set this up as a “legit” dungeon unto itself.
In terms of the dungeon itself, it’s actually an above-ground set of ruins, in which the PCs need to survive while finding specific methods to get to the end. It includes a fairly diverse set of traps and monsters, and covers the largest amount of territory (at least in terms of tactical maps) of the three adventures. There’s an excellent mixture of opportunities here for different ways to go about “beating” the dungeon – from simply hack ‘n’ slashing everything in sight to trying to sneak through with minimal contact with the locals to trying to get through with diplomacy. None of these will work in every situation of course, but you may be surprised by just how different this dungeon can play out depending on how the PCs approach it.
This is also the adventure with the most support material in the book; by support material I mean that this adventure features multiple new magic items, new monsters, and even a set of pregenerated PCs. There’s a lot to recommend The Ruins Perilous, and it opens AQ2 with a great start.
The second adventure, “Into the Land of Tombs,” doesn’t manage to live up to its preceding adventure, unfortunately. For one thing, it’s fairly heavy on its backstory, to the point where the reasons behind the adventure feel burdensome in what they lay on the PCs. Moreover, there’s a strong overtone of the cultural norms of the desert society in which the adventure takes place (as the adventure revolves around those norms being violated), which means that there’s a large table for the PCs to know what those cultural practices are to begin with. Be prepared to read a lot of text to the characters at the start of the adventure.
The adventure itself is essentially a journey to a tomb and the recovery of a missing item held therein. It’s fairly brief overall, which isn’t a bad thing; it’s fairly intense, however, as there are a number of encounters beyond what you’d expect for the duration of the adventure. This is a good thing, as it ablates my biggest gripe with this adventure – it doesn’t quite live up to its listed level for the characters.
“Into the Land of Tombs” is meant to be for 9th-level characters. However, while a few of the encounters are collectively that threat level, none of the individual creatures (save for the BBEG at the end) have a CR that high. To be fair, a few do almost get there with a Challenge Rating of 8. But for the most part, the adventure’s strategy is to wear the PCs down over time, making it very important that the GM reinforce that the fifteen-minute adventuring day not apply here. The PCs are meant to expend resources fighting waves of weaker monsters so that when they come to the end, the “final boss” can adequately challenge them. With that said, be prepared to scale things up if your party is larger than normal.
The final adventure, meant for 18th-level characters, is “The Dungeon of No Return.” As with the other adventures, it has an odd back-story, but it’s nicely abbreviated; moreover, the adventure hooks are varied, and presented as bullet points that quickly describe reasons why the PCs would get involved at all, something that shouldn’t be too hard to determine when your PCs are this high-level.
One thing that needs to be said about this adventure up-front is that the GM will need to sink some serious time into preparation. It’s common knowledge that running a high-level game takes some work, and that’s on display here. While the eponymous dungeon is only five rooms long, the creatures and traps in those five rooms require a full thirty pages to properly lay out. A GM who tries to run this one off the cuff is asking for a lot of frustration.
That said, a GM who does familiarize himself with this dungeon will find that it can present quite the challenge to his group…though some tweaking may be necessary. Several of the rooms in the dungeon are based around the idea of the PCs taking bait and bringing the resulting consequences down on themselves. I personally find most groups, particularly at high levels, to be highly suspicious in nature, and certainly not prone to repeating behaviors that previously brought them to bad ends. It’s not that big a deal, as the dungeon doesn’t rely solely on this gimmick, but it is in there more than once. Be prepared to rethink a room or two on this premise.
The book closes with a pair of quick articles; the first gives us a table of one hundred random features that can be part of a dungeon room. The second is a brief but interesting take on using a mechanical shorthand to indicate how an NPC’s primary (and secondary) motivation can affect their behavior in the course of game-play – something like a morale score, but for something besides determining if the characters duck and run from combat. Both are interesting articles, but I confess that it was the second one that really captured my imagination; I’m a big fan of using brief mechanics as springboards to determine NPC behaviors, so I quite enjoyed this one.
Overall, Adventure Quarterly #2 presents an imperfect but strong selection of adventures. Each is thoughtfully set around different styles of game-play – a dungeon with a widely-varied cast of monsters and traps, a dungeon that relies on attrition, and a dungeon with a short but highly-complex set of challenges – that cover a wide range of styles. Some of the details weren’t to my liking, but these were never anything game-breaking, and in fact were quite easy to change. The pair of articles at the end helped to round things out, even if they weren’t completely germane to the materials at hand. Still, if you’re looking for some new challenges to run your group through, you’d be well-served by what you’ll find in Adventure Quarterly #2.
[5 of 5 Stars!]