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Advanced Adventures #1: The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom
by José M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/14/2019 21:22:57

Loved it! Played it in 5e when my group decided to ignore the goblins attacking the town. The cleric died trying to sneak past a monster to get at the treasure it was keeping. The party was nearly killed while camping in a corridor. They decided to focus on the goblins again after being ambushed by the creepy fungus men. Good stuff!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #1: The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom
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Advanced Adventures #24: The Mouth of the Shadowvein
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/25/2019 05:10:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review is part of a series of requests undertaken at the request of my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience.

Okay, so, as always, this module is penned with the OSRIC rules in mind, but conversion to other OSR rulesets is relatively painless. As always, we don’t get read-aloud text herein, and there are a couple of formal differences from the formatting conventions that OSRIC employs, but these, for the most part, apply in a mostly consistent manner. Nominally intended for 6-10 characters of level 3- 5, the adventure is challenging, but mostly in a way that is contingent on how the PCs interact with the environments found and encountered. Attempting to murder-hobo through everything can and will get you killed here. While in the previous module, murder-hoboing PCs could still potentially get away with quite a few things, this stops here – dumb decisions can get PCs killed. Quickly. But similarly, smart PCs may actually be able to best foes far beyond their ability to defeat by force of arms alone. (More on that in the SPOILER-section.) In short: If your PCs is Lawful Stupid, they will die.

There is one more aspect you may need to be aware of: This module represents a taking up of a dangling thread from the very first Advanced Adventures-module, “The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom” and may be run as a direct sequel to said adventure; knowledge of the previous module is not required, and it is pretty easy to integrate this module into the context of any prolonged underworld campaign or exploration, whether they are mega-dungeon-based or subterranean sagas like AAW Games’ excellent Rise of the Drow campaign. This module also represents the second of two modules that expand the material based on the eponymous Shadowvein, which means that, unless you really don’t want to play the prequel, it’s recommend that you first play “Down the Shadowvein”. The Shadowvein, fyi, is a subterranean river, a black ribbon of water illuminated by purple and green lichen, with tendrils of almost snot-like strands hanging from them – colloquially known as “faerie sputum” to those traveling its length.

From a genre-perspective, we have, much like in its predecessor, a pretty free-form sandbox here – a subterranean hexcrawl, which cleverly uses the subterranean river Shadowvein as a kind of red thread that the PCs may or may not follow. The module does a pretty neat job at depicting the differences regarding the environment and sandbox style play: For one, we not only get different random encounter tables, they differentiate between passage types: You see, the overland hexcrawl map knows primary, secondary and tertiary passages, with different encounters suggested for each.

As a small digression: There are generally two aesthetic design paradigms regarding the underworld, two “genres” if you will: One would be the “civilized” underworld – a realm of vast dwarven fortresses and drow cities, where civilizations both alien and familiar thrive, and then there would be the “weird” underworld, where anything remotely resembling the civilized world vanishes, where strange and chthonian phenomena and creatures roam, where, depending on the setting, one might find entrances to the literal underworld, or even hell. This module, in a smart decision, provides a transition – the Shadowvein, as noted in my review of the predecessor module, very much starts as a trip through “civilized” underworld, while this module represents the PCs leaving these subterranean shores behind in favor of a stranger environments where few upperworlder soles have tread before. However, it does so without a hard cut into the strange, instead using the course of the river to slowly emphasize a transition towards these regions – and VERY FEW modules manage to achieve that; this is the primary reason I copped out and went with two final verdicts regarding my review of its predecessor. In a way, this module represents the payoff and continuation for the exploration of the first Shadowvein adventure.

Considering this, I do have to complain about something: Much to my chagrin and disappointment, the random encounter tables are the exact same as in the previous Shadowvein module (and no, some typo-level glitches haven’t been purged). The encounter tables focus primarily on humanoids, with very few other critters thrown in. This, to me, was somewhat galling, as the module starts transitioning between what one would dub the “civilized” regions of the underworld, and the region that starts to become truly alien and wondrous. As such, a change of pace regarding the tables would have been appreciated. I strongly suggest investing the time and making the random encounter tables more interesting, or rather, different, for this one.

Noja, undal and wyrdwolf stats have been included in this module as well, alongside 3 other creatures – since the exploration of the subterranean realms and the surprise they can elicit is part of the module’s charm, I’ll relegate my discussion of these to the SPOILER-section below.

As before, the player-map of the Shadowvein has been included with its intentional idiosyncrasies still representing one design decision I really enjoyed, and we do get 5 “zoomed-in”, fully mapped encounter areas. I minded the lack of player-friendly maps for them slightly less in most cases than I did for the previous adventure, though one in particular was just BEGGING for a player-friendly map: You see, there is a pretty massive hexcrawl region, with the map spanning two-pages – that one should have been included in a keyless, untagged version at least.

The module contains a couple of new magic items, which include the utilitarian svirfneblin forge stone, a rod that brings the undead back to horrid unlife, an amulet that enhances undead control, a chest that can store a spell to unleash upon intruders, and one item that would represent a SPOILER of sorts – just let it be known that there is a touch of science-fantasy included in the weird herein, with one of the “zoomed-in” adventure locations adhering to that aesthetic.

All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

Okay, only GMs around? Great! The first complex featured herein is already more interesting than all in the previous module combined: The lair of Tyrhanidies the lich features his well-concealed subterranean abode, and the mighty spellcaster is using undead as a toll-collecting means. This would per se be unremarkable, were it not for a curious effect haunting the labyrinthine caverns hiding his belongings and lair: There are strange magical effects here, where gravity doesn’t work properly, and something about them makes those exploring these caves turn stark, raving mad: An innocuous slime causes these visions magically to affect all intelligent creatures (yep, RAW, including the undead!) and the lich has found a way to deal with this, employing the curious property to further shore up his seriously impressive defenses. Now, granted, the PCs may find themselves bypassing this region relatively painless, but we all know how undead spellcasters tend to enjoy press-ganging PCs into doing their bidding…and how PCs are bound to come into conflict with such entities. Cool: Smart and observant PCs either called and escorted to the lich’s abode may realize that there is one object with tremendous sentimental value for the mighty master of the living dead. This, obviously, represents an angle to really annoy the fellow – or to negotiate with a being far beyond the capabilities of the PCs at this level to actually destroy! This is a great area indeed, and its focus on atmosphere, global effects and various means in which you can run it made me really appreciate what was done here.

The second encounter area is pretty much…boring. A grimlock ambush. It exists, but it doesn’t contribute too much to the module’s appeal. After that, we have a svirfneblin outpost that can be construed to be the final waystation of civilization along the Shadowvein’s course, a last chance to rest in a safe environment before the massive, aforementioned hex-crawl sub-region: In a ginromous cavern, the overgrown ruins of a drow city lurk in basically the equivalent of a jungle-choked city of ruins. You see, at one time, the drow that used to reside here managed to capture and harness the godling known as the Pod-God with the help of a demonic patron. It is said entity that ultimately managed to destroy the city, including the artifact employed in imprisoning the entity – this actually did slay the pod-god, but fungi will find a way, and as such, the deity is gestating currently – there will be centuries before the potent deity can reform, but this creates a wondrous environment indeed, one suffused with magic, where stone giants from eastern realms (with an inconsistency in nomenclature), mongrelman and more loom; this region is clearly intended to be expanded, and much to my joy, there are 4 different random encounter tables for each sub-biome of the massive cavern. Oh, one more thing: The gestating pod-god actually wasn’t neutral or evil – it was actually a good entity, and thus, its puffball is guarded by a planetar! With a gate that emits screaming noise and similar, unique environments, this cavern oozes panache and flair galore. This is a great cavern, and would be one of the highlights of the adventure – even remotely capable GMs will have some seriously fun time running and expanding this inspiring environment.

The final encounter are would be unique as well: It depicts the “Green Death Isle” – setting foot upon this island used to see those that dared to do so evaporated, so the hunk of metal there remained unexplored. Well, guess what? That hunk of metal? It’s a actually a flying saucer, and since then, the reactor has run out of fuel, and the defensive disintegration ray? It no longer works. In the aftermath of the reactor’s radiation, a unique people has developed here, namely the terplip, a race of sentient, humanoid mantis-shrimp people! If you’re like me, you raised your hands in the old devil’s horn-gesture and went “Hell yeah!” I mean, come on – mantis-shrimp people? Awesome! We have two different random encounter tables for this region as well, and this becomes even cooler once you learn about the crustacean dragon and the remaining robots – smart PCs may actually be able to save the terplip from their servitude to the draconic creature. Did I mention the laser pistol?

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good, bordering on very good, on a formal and rules-language level – apart from a few minor inconsistencies and the like, I noticed nothing glaring. Layout adheres to the series’ classic two-column b/w-standard, with a few decent b/w-artworks thrown in. The cartography does its job, and I really enjoyed the inclusion of a player-friendly map for the Shadowvein’s environments. It would have been nice to get player-friendly maps for the trade/social encounter areas at least, though. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Joseph Browning’s “The Mouth of the Shadowvein” delivers in spades – while two of the zoomed-in encounter areas provide pretty obvious functions and are here to facilitate play (the safe zone) or act as filler (the ambush), the other three regions are amazing. They require smart players and are more deadly than anything the PCs have found so far; there are implied quest-lines that may or may not be taken and used to motivate the players to interact with the factions, and the combination of unique vistas, as a whole, delivers on the promises slowly built up during the previous adventures, while taking up the leitmotif of the original adventure that spawned the notion of exploring the Shadowvein. In short: This is a great little adventure that does a nice job at depicting a region of the underworld that feels like it’s tip-toeing the line between the civilized and weird subterranean realms. It captures the best of early AD&D-aesthetics regarding these realms and molds them into a fun and rewarding expansion, one that ostensibly, like in the previous module, may be taken apart or expanded upon, should you choose to go that route. All in all, this is worth a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded up since the lack of a player-friendly map for the sub-region hexcrawl does not warrant rounding down, and this also receives my seal of approval. Come on, the terplip are awesome!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #24: The Mouth of the Shadowvein
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Advanced Adventures #23: Down the Shadowvein
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/21/2019 08:05:07

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review is part of a series of requests undertaken at the request of my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience.

Okay, so, as always, this module is penned with the OSRIC rules in mind, but conversion to other OSR rulesets is relatively painless. As always, we don’t get read-aloud text herein, and there are a couple of formal differences from the formatting conventions that OSRIC employs, but these, for the most part, apply in a mostly consistent manner. Nominally intended for 6-10 characters of level 3- 5, the adventure is challenging, but mostly in a way that is contingent on how the PCs interact with the environments found and encountered. Attempting to murder-hobo through everything can and will get you killed here.

There is one more aspect you may need to be aware of: This module represents a taking up of a dangling thread from the very first Advanced Adventures-module, “The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom” and may be run as a direct sequel to said adventure; knowledge of the previous module is not required, and it is pretty easy to integrate this module into the context of any prolonged underworld campaign or exploration, whether they are mega-dungeon-based or subterranean sagas like AAW Games’ excellent Rise of the Drow campaign. This module also represents the first of two modules that expand the material based on the eponymous Shadowvein, with “The Mouth of the Shadowvein” representing the second adventure and conclusion of the exploration. The Shadowvein, fyi, is a subterranean river, a black ribbon of water illuminated by purple and green lichen, with tendrils of almost snot-like strands hanging from them – colloquially known as “faerie sputum” to those traveling its length.

From a genre-perspective, we have a pretty free-form sandbox here – a subterranean hexcrawl, which, cleverly, uses the subterranean river Shadowvein as a kind of red thread that the PCs may or may not follow. The module does a pretty neat job at depicting the differences regarding the environment and sandbox style play: For one, we not only get different random encounter tables, they differentiate between passage types: You see, the overland hexcrawl map knows primary, secondary and tertiary passages, with different encounters suggested for each. As a whole, this module takes place in the “civilized” region of the underworld, with settlements and outposts providing a reflection of social dynamics and paradigms one could theoretically encounter in the sunlit world as well – it takes place in the realms of drow cities, dwarven holds, etc. The weirder aspects, where society and civilization tend to fall apart and be replaced with the truly strange may be found in the sequel, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The encounter tables thus focus primarily on humanoids, with very few other critters thrown in.

This is not to say that there is no strangeness here, mind you: There would, for example, be a need breed of monster, the furnace worm, that consumes rock and excretes valuable metals contained within; we are introduced to the subterranean trade-race dubbed “Noja”, 3- 4 ft. small humanoids with a penchant for mischief and trickery – almost like trader-fey/gnome-crossovers if you will. Interesting: The females and males of the race can cast different spells. The noja act as a kind of linchpin for the other two creatures introduced – the undal being pack animals with weird crowns of horns that allow them to execute nasty charges, and the wyrdwolves, which are basically canine critters with the ability to make their eyes glow in a blinding strobe that can temporarily blind prey. The latter may not sound like much, but personally, I enjoyed them. Their presentation makes them strange, yet plausible enough. It’s also nice to see the umber hulk concept regarding canines executed with a pretty different flavor here.

Much to my joy, the module remembered the hook of the PCs finding a map of the Shadowvein – a SPOILER-free player’s map of the Shadowvein has been provided, and yep, it does not feature issues and indeed, has some areas where it’s less reliable. I always like that kind of thing – big plus for going the extra mile here.

This module contains a total of 5 different “zoom-in” adventure locales that the PCs following the Shadowvein may find, and the map leaves enough space for GMs to add their own modules and encounters, should they choose to. These individual locales do come fully mapped, but in the case of a few of them, it’s pretty likely that the PCs could attain a map of the region, with no player-friendly version provided. This represents a comfort-detriment for folks like yours truly that suck at drawing maps. It should also be noted that this adventure contains two new magic items, though both, in some way, do influence the narrative, so if you’re curious about them, please consult the next section.

All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

Okay, only GMs around? Great! The first lair to be found deals with a goblin tribe in the middle of internal strife – two months ago, chief and sub-chief killed each other, and indeed, there are currently two factions vying for control over the goblin tribe. As a nice change of pace, PCs who don’t want to murder-hobo through everything may find themselves recruited into a kind of mini-investigation that may see them uncover the truth about how the unique culture of this tribe, which includes ritual bathing [!!] of younglings, was weaponized for the coup-d’état that split the tribe into its current state. As is wont with such scenarios, outsiders like the PCs may well be recruited to end the semi-stalemate between factions.

The second encounter area has some nice horror/dark fantasy-tones: Once an outpost of loathsome bugbears, they have since then been slain by a magical disease that usually only affects those of giant stock, which is particularly likely for half-orcs and similar characters. Only two bugbears remain, both of whom have been transformed into strange horrors. Slaying them has the miasma turn into a kind of entity, which then proceeds to disperse. This scene, alongside the emptied caverns, actually managed to evoke an atmosphere we only rarely get to see executed so well, so kudos for that!

The third encounter area, a noja trading post, is a kind of neutral ground, enforced by a unique statue of a six-armed woman with serpentine lower bodies: The aura of peace makes hostilities here a superbly bad idea, and indeed, veterans may have gleaned that the statue is indeed a marilith – who is not happy about her cursed state. One of the encounter locations does include a magical item, the Tooth of Gorim Graal, which fortifies against fire, but also is the focus for the binding…which could result in a massacre if the PCs find it and proceed to ignore the warnings…and unleashed marilith will not be something the traders, noja, etc. can stop…

There is a similar connection between the penultimate encounter area and the last one – the second unique magic item included would be the Traveling Hammer of Dorin Graybeard, a mighty weapon sacred to dwarves, which, while providing powerful boons, does consume a percentage of the wearer’s treasure collected, and which doesn’t take kind to any bad treatment a dwarf may suffer from the wielder. Which is relevant, for, at one point, the PCs can happen upon a pretty massive dwarven hold that features a portcullis and toll bridge. Obviously, this region is also more focused on roleplaying than on killing everything, which is a nice change of pace.

The final encounter-location is easily by far the most deadly thing contained in the module – “The Snide Dungeon of the Mad Mage Hallach” is basically a gauntlet devised by a mad wizard, one studded with snarky and snide comments delivered via magical means. As such, the PCs and players are warned – this is not a complex to be trifled with, and any casualties are their own fault – well, they had to press onwards, didn’t they? As a gauntlet, it is exceedingly linear and intended as a challenge that requires genuine player skill to beat. It also is a wandering dungeon, that is, it will vanish if the PCs try to whittle it down via repeated sojourns, and could make for a pretty nice 4-hour convention slot game on its own. While challenging, and indeed, in some instances almost sadistic, it always remains fair…though the somewhat random white dragon boss at the end felt like a bit much to me. I just dislike dragons being used as random bosses, but this will not influence my final verdict, as it is part of my personal bias. Then again, the unique magic items noted can be found in its hoard, and the PCs that managed to get this far will have earned the loot.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good, bordering on very good, on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ classic two-column b/w-standard, with a few decent b/w-artworks thrown in. The cartography does its job, and I really enjoyed the inclusion of a player-friendly map for the Shadowvein’s environments. It would have been nice to get player-friendly maps for the trade/social encounter areas at least, though. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Joseph Browning’s first part of the exploration of the Shadowvein is a nice subterranean sandbox; in contrast to previous hex-based explorations in the series like “Under Shattered Mountain”, it zooms in a bit more and provides some genuinely fun and diverse locations to visit. I would have enjoyed a few more quest-seeds regarding the respective areas – as written, the loot for the challenge-dungeon represents one of the few connecting components that tie the individual encounter locations together. If you’re looking for a trade route to include into your underworld, one that gets the aesthetics established in books like the ones dealing with a certain scimitar-wielding renegade right, then this delivers. I can see this work well in contexts beyond its system, and while it doesn’t reach the same level of mind-blowing awesomeness as some of the author’s other modules, it does represent a great little adventure. Now, personally, I’d have loved to see more encounters actually atop the Shadowvein, focusing more on the experience of the river itself, but that may be me. All in all, I consider this to be a nice adventure, and as such, my final verdict for this as a stand-alone module will be 4 stars. Please do note, that this also represents a set-up that transitions from more subdued aesthetics towards the ever stranger, its payoffs to a degree featuring in the sequel, so if you plan on going the whole way down the Shadowvein, then consider this to be 4.5 stars, rounded up instead.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #23: Down the Shadowvein
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Advanced Adventures #22: Stonepick Crossing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/30/2019 10:44:46

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure/supplement clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, ½ a page SRD, leaving us with 10.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by a supporter of my patreon, to be undertaken at my convenience.

All right, so, as always, this supplement was designed with the OSRIC rules in mind, though formatting conventions do somewhat deviate from the system’s established standard. The module is intended for characters level 1 – 3, though at first level, the experience of running this can be rather deadly. A well-rounded group is certainly suggested, and it should be noted that there is actually plenty of roleplaying in this supplement.

Supplement? Didn’t I claim this was a module? Yeah, well, both are correct. You see, in a way, this one treats a specific settlement like a dungeon, with a more conventional dungeon-level below. The module does not sport read-aloud text.

All right, and this is pretty much as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, so Stonepick Crossing is testament to two dwarven virtues: Ingenuity, and the tendency to go overkill. When a clan of dwarves fought a particularly nasty, and well-entrenched goblin tribe, they refused to deplete their ranks by attacking the goblins’ excellent defensive positions, instead crafting a colossal dam – the eponymous Stone pick Crossing. The dwarves have moved on, the goblins have been drowned, and in the centuries since, the dam has persisted (for the most part!) the test of time. The dwarven craftsmanship has made the dam an excellent place for a waystation/trade-type of settlement, and as such, this settlement was born, with the locals living in the buildings left by the dwarves of old.

Stonepick Crossing as a settlement sports 3 levels – two levels on the dam, and one below the water surface; the latter, obviously, represents aforementioned more conventional dungeon level, though it’s not a place that PCs will immediately fin. Instead, they will interact with the surprisingly vivid cast of characters that may be found here. The short encounter-tables and detailed notes make it rather simple to generate a sense of an organic, lived-in location, and there is quite a lot of loot to be found. Due to the concept of a dwarven building repurposed as a village, there even are secret rooms that smart PCs can find – for this trade-hub has a dangerous black market that can be a very dangerous encounter if the PCs don’t behave. Beyond the knowledgeable beggar, we also have rather dangerous haunted locales here, and Stonepick Crossing has been suffering from mysterious disappearances, which are investigated by a none-too-subtle/smart investigator who might make for a good contact for good PCs.

At this point, I should also note that these disappearances actually are due to a rather dangerous individual capturing targets and selling them off into slavery. The dam-structure also means that not all rooms on e.g. the deep level are connected – one of the halves of the lowest level has seen the magics that keep out the water partially fail, flooding the place and providing egress to rather dangerous humanoids that can lead to further complications, including crabmen. And yes, ancient dwarven treasures may be found by curious and capable adventurers that don’t fall prey to the dangers of this place.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf has no interior artwork beyond cover and editorial page. The cartography is b/w and functional, but not spectacular. No player-friendly maps are included. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

This is the first offering by Matt Morrison I’ve reviewed, and it’s a surprisingly cool one – the combination of settlement and dungeon has been pulled off with surprising panache. In spite of the supplement’s brevity, Stonepick Crossing feels like an organic place, and I managed to picture the inhabitants rather well. With multiple sandboxy plotlines that may or may not converge, it’s a classic “insert PCs for adventure” type of module, one that manages to pull off its angle rather well indeed. The one issue of this one would be that the word-count gets slightly in the way of the module: Stonepick Crossing is a VERY cramped space, and unless you expand the settlement to encompass buildings beyond the dam, the settlement feels very cramped and claustrophobic, and lacks the infrastructure to support its populace and services. The trade-angle only can account for so much, and personally, I’d suggest GMs using this to add a few farmers beyond the dam, some additional places – you get the idea.

With a few more pages allowed, the author could have presented a rather great offering here – it certainly knocks the White River Run-adventures out of the water. Haha. Sorry, couldn’t resist. All in all, a fun supplement/module, and easily one of the more impressive installments in the series. My final verdict will be 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #22: Stonepick Crossing
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Advanced Adventures #35: The Desert Shrine of the Sightless Sisters
by A customer [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/15/2019 21:44:55

This adventure by Keith Sloan is intended for a party of 5-8th level characters. A well-rounded group is very much suggested, and for good reason, as the adventure is an exhilarating—and challenging—blend of traps to overcome, mysteries to unwrap, and combats against a varied range of foes to emerge victorious from. As with any good classic dungeon crawl, players should exercise caution when facing the dangers within the Shrine, but the challenges are fair. Deep in the desert wastes crumbles an ancient ziggurat, so worn away by time that it is now little more than an oddly-shaped mound in the wastes. Local superstition has long warned of some evil within this ancient edifice, without knowing why. In fact, the ruins are inhabited by a sisterhood of medusa, served—in what is a brilliant twist—by a cult of blind female acolytes (the ‘Sightless Sisters’ of the title). The exact reason for the PCs to explore the Desert Shrine is left to the GM, but the module does offer a number of possible hooks. The one that’s most evocative involves a desperate effort to rescue kidnapped girls before they can be initiated into the sisterhood by being blinded and rendered mute. The Shrine consists of three levels, each one with its own theme and linked together by well-reasoned internal consistency. The top level is the shrine of the Sightless Sisters, the domain of the deadly cultists. Next, we come to the lair of the ancient medusa clan. Finally, characters delve deep into an ancient crypt where all manner of horrors lurk within the darkness. Sloan aims to make each room interesting in some manner, and delivers in spades. In one room, characters come upon a petrified skull that, if placed upon a headless statue elsewhere in the Shrine, begins to speak—much of it gibberish, but occasionally offering oracular insight. Cool! Elsewhere, in true Gygaxian-style, we find a fountain filled with sand. No ordinary sand, if it touches flesh the victim becomes sand himself.
Beyond the adventure itself, The Desert Shrine of the Sightless Sisters concludes includes two new monsters—Greater Medusa and Medusa Mummy—seven new and interesting magic items. All are worthy additions and thematically appropriate. Conclusion Writing is clear and evocative, with a clear grasp of the rules, and editing is flawless. Maps are simple but effective, while the artwork ranges from stunning to good.
Keith Sloan’s “The Desert Shrine of the Sightless Sisters” is a masterpiece, pure and simple. It is one of the best dungeon crawls I’ve read, period, and occupies a position in the highest pinnacle of Expeditious Retreat Press’ Advanced Adventures line. Indeed, it may be the best of the bunch (which almost hurts me to say, having myself written several over the years). It’s dripping with atmosphere while stridently maintaining internal logic and consistency from beginning to end. “The Desert Shrine” manages to deliver the goods with panache; from the temple of the Sightless Sisters to the lair of the evocative lair of the medusa to the brutal crypts of the long-dead medusa in the ziggurat’s bowels, this module delivers with all of its components. The module is just brilliant. The flavor it oozes is fantastic, the challenges difficult but enjoyable. This is a must-own-five-stars-classic-in-the-making-gem, an adventure that will remain in the memory of your players for years to come!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #35: The Desert Shrine of the Sightless Sisters
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Advanced Adventures #21: The Obsidian Sands of Syncrates
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/22/2019 11:48:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested as one of a series of reviews by one of my patreon supporters.

All right, so this module is intended for 6 – 10 characters level 4 – 7, and the minimum number of players, at least without modifying a component of the module rather extensively, you do need at least 6 players (or at least PCs) to use this one. Rules-wise, this employs the OSRIC rules-set, and the module may be translated to other OSR games with relative ease. As always for the series, there are a few formatting convention deviations, and the module does not come with read-aloud text.

Now, while nominally designated as a tournament/convention module, this adventure does not feature a meat-grinder-like level of challenge; it works perfectly well as an insertion into an ongoing campaign. That being said, this is very much a well-rounded module in the challenges it poses, offering exploration, puzzles and combat – it does take player skill to beat. The adventure does come with scoring notes, a page of tournament character pregens in a table (with all notes) and a second version that has only the crucial pregen info on a page.

PCs surviving the module will be granted a special ring that acts as a safety net, healing them fully once. The module does come with 5 new creatures, two of which get their own artworks in b/w – these deserve special mentioning, as both artworks are amazing: The dust weird (snake of dust) actually looks awesome, and the obsidian sandman manages to look pretty badass. Beyond these, we have pretty boring guardian giants, a more interesting formaldehyde jelly and skysharks. Yep, you read that correctly!

All right, this is far as I can go here without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only referees around? Great! The module begins in a most foreboding manner – the local guides, upon witnessing ash drifting like black snow from above, stab themselves with knives, repeatedly, and plunge from the ship the PCs are on. They seem to know something…and indeed, the PCs find their ship stranded in the eponymous black sands of an arena of the grandest kind. They have been plucked from their world and deposited in the massive arena of the god of entertainment Syncrates; starvation and thirst looms as well as the previously mentioned obsidian men mean that exploration of the arena is dangerous – there is another wrecked vessel, and said vessel seems to come from a strange place indeed.

More importantly, there are two ginormous statues – a colossal lion, and a similarly gargantuan statue of a somewhat pseudo-Greek warrior. The statue has a side-view map and top-down maps for the respective rooms, for the lion’s share of the module is about exploring the gigantic soldier statue – the inside of the gigantic statue is basically a science-fantasy dungeon that features unique and fun challenges, including pools of strange liquids inside of the statue’s stomach. The combat challenges inside feature crypt things, a riddle (which is represented as a 1/3rd page handout), and there are plenty of intriguing scenes – you see, there is, for example, a programmed illusion of a certain character fireballing the room after a couple of disputes, which can generate some nice paranoia in a tournament context. Duplicate zombies that can only be defeated by their equivalent, among other targets, may be found here. There are some clever uses of hazards and the like, but ultimately, to live through the adventure, the PCs will not only have to explore the statue – they will have to (probably) backtrack and collect quite an array of exotic components to finally access the statue’s control mechanisms.

You see, this ginormous statue comes with proper stats, and actually is a Power Rangers-like colossus that may be operated by the PCs – the statue has 7 stations, and ruby and marble thrones allow the PCs to operate the gigantic warrior – and make it fight against the gigantic lion statue monstrosity for the edification of the cosmic forces out there. The stations themselves allow casters to influence the options available for the colossus (rogues in the feet enhance AC, while monks provide a smaller bonus, but net a potent attack, for example), and yep, this is an impressive and awesome finale of suitably epic proportions! While, on a didactic level, the way in which the colossus’ operation works could be explained slightly clearer, this is me nitpicking.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal level and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the b/w-artworks are nice. The cartography is solid and functional, but no player-friendly version is included, which is a bit of a bummer. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Joseph Browning knows how to write neat modules. His second tournament module oozes science-fantasy/planar awesomeness, and features a truly epic finale. The blend of challenges between hazards, combat and stuff that engages your mental faculties is great and makes this a rather cool and well-rounded adventure. This is definitely one of the high-lights of the series so far, and a module I can wholeheartedly recommend. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #21: The Obsidian Sands of Syncrates
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Advanced Adventures #20: The Riddle of Anadi
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/02/2019 05:34:24

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, ½ a page SRD, leaving us with 10.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was sponsored by one of my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience.

All right, as always for the series, we use the OSRIC rules-set, including a couple of deviations from said system’s formatting conventions; conversion to other OSR-games is pretty simple. As for level-range, the module is intended for 5 - 7 characters of levels 6 – 10, and takes place as the PCs explore the complex that ostensibly holds the remains of the fabled magic-user Anadi. The complex spans two levels, and said levels are surprisingly non-linear, allowing for some player-choice. This is an old-school adventure, and difficulty-wise, one of the tougher beasts – it definitely helps to impart Anadi’s legend on the players, and novice players may well face a TPK in this one.

This is a review of a module, and as such, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. … .. . Only GMs around? Great!

The module begins in an interesting manner, with the PCs needing to pass by a wall of force, which they probably can’t just disintegrate away at this level. So, even before the dungeon properly begins, we have the requirement of smart problem-solving skills to even start (and yes, spellcasting capabilities are taken into account). This is a good thing. It establishes the type of module you should expect. The first room establishes a sense of foreboding – beyond a nauseating illusory effect, the PCs will be faced with a programmed pronouncement of doom for tomb-robbers etc. – this further establishes a sense of warning, as the PCs get to explore a highly magical complex. The first guardian creature also drives this home – a custom stonegolem with unique offensive capabilities. Potentially bypassed, we also find a mechanism that is kinda cool: There are statues with fingers that may be moved. Manipulating the fingers can have a variety of effects that range from the beneficial (the major benefit works only once) to the detrimental: You can end up being transformed into a small bird for a couple of turns for raising the middle finger of the statue; when you make the metalhead/bull’s horn gesture, you can end up being temporarily transformed into a hostile minotaur…but in both cases, the polymorph effects are NOT permanent. This is no save-or-die. It is old-school “tinker with stuff, see what happens” random stuff that balances risk and reward…and it is the only means to enter a subsection of the level.

You see, the introductory chamber, the one with the nauseating illusions, has a superbly camouflages secret door, and entering the complex has awoken a new creature, the so-called deep spirit, as well as the writhes. Writhes are basically staff-shaped erratically moving extra-dimensional entities that can choke you, while the spirit looks a bit like an elemental water spirit. However, said spirit can save-or-die you, as it draws water from those nearby to heal itself – thankfully only once per hour. This entity and its minions are basically the last guard that will attempt to slay foolhardy tomb-robbers once they exit the complex…and PCs that experiment with the finger-statues may thus manage to avoid a truly unpleasant encounter later on, when their resources are already stretched thin. Now, granted, the creature’s save or die is nasty, but it may potentially be avoided by smart PCs. Speaking of the fingers of the statue – there is also a buff that is based on enriched oxygen following the character as a kind of doping, but which, alas, makes the person more flammable while it persists. All in all, I like this – it’s random, but it balances its randomness pretty well, and avoids save or suck.

The complex also houses a false tomb of Anadi (sans clue that it’s not the proper one, save that it’s been too easy to reach), and another room, wherein a couple of massive urns await. Now, here, plundering urns can yield a bit of treasure…but it also may unleash another new creature, the squidhead – a human skull with tentacles (illustrated in b/w, fyi) that comes with bleed-inducing bite, carries a disease and also has limited quantities of debilitating (but not deadly) poison. Another urn represents my least favorite aspect of the module: Sure, the PCs have been warned. But opening one of the urns will suck a PC, headfirst, into a sphere of annihilation. There is no save to put the cork back onto the urn, no foreshadowing, nothing. Granted, the room is pretty obviously a lure for would-be tomb-robbers, but this no-save-die-scenario is still really, really dickish in an otherwise clever adventure.

Another component of the aforementioned statue aspect is a bit wonky – you see, there is a pond room, and the fronds inside animate at certain temperatures, attempting to drown those caught. One of the finger-configurations heats the room, activating this per se cool organic trap. I like this. BUT, and it’s a big BUT – there is no means for the PCs to discern the correlation there. It’s utterly random – in a bad way. It’s not about risks or rewards here, it’s just an arbitrary punishment for an arbitrary action, and there is no means to establish a link between these actions. So that would be the second of the finger-effects that isn’t exactly cool. The only reason I’m not harping on this more, is that it kinda makes sense – same goes for a one-way teleport into an oubliette that fakes PC-death….unless they have means to escape from this room, it may well be lethal. It also should be noted that the oubliette is subject to the global effects of level 2 of the dungeon – more on those later. An unnecessarily dickish move – you can’t teleport out of the room, but, you know, with magic, you could try to dig…Still, that is a possible and rather unfair chance at a TPK. It kinda makes sense, but it’s the second instance where the module benefits from having experienced veterans comfortable with old-school lethality.

Now, the second level of the complex, provided the PCs don’t run afoul of aforementioned kill-rooms and aren’t fooled by the false tomb, features e.g. green slime laden dead ends, and is subject to a magic-dampening effect that applies a flat 20% spell failure chance with 8 sample effects. There are spectral trolls, and the level does contain a hallway that features a series of potentially lethal, layered illusions – these are creative, dangerous, but also potentially things that experienced groups have a solid chance of navigating. The complex also includes a maddened man turned into a cockatrice, a fleshgolem wrought from rhino, crab and hyena…and if the PCs and players are up to their A-game, they will reach Anadi’s final resting place…or not, for the legendary illusionist’s point of vanishing is guarded by a trio of potent avenging angels.

The pdf contains 8 new spells. As a minor nitpick: Level is sometimes noted as “magic user X”, sometimes as “magic user level x.” Illusionists may learn the 4th level basilisk gaze spell, which is a save-or-suck petrify that may last up to 1d4 hours, but requires concentration to maintain. At 5th spell-level, magic-users may learn blood of flame, an ongoing damage spell that requires a touch. Line of sight is a 2nd level cleric spell that guides you towards a destination, but that doesn’t help with hazards. Armor reversal is an interesting cleric spell at 4th spell level, as it may target 1 – 3 beings, though the less you target, the harder the save to resist will be. The spell basically flips AC, making e.g. AC 1 turn into AC 9, AC into AC 2, etc. – interesting! If the PCs get to truly find Anadi’s last known whereabouts, they can find a spellbook that contains 4 unique spells made by the legendary mistress of magic: At spell level 3, Anadi’s guardian sphere generates a semi-sentient ball of electricity that can attack once per round a nearby target – it may be shorted out. At one spell level higher, Anadi’s chosen retreat provides a teleportation to a safe haven inhabited when casting the spell when a key-component of the spell, a kind of failsafe, is destroyed. Anadi’s peculiar ward, at level 7, is similar to guards and wards and represents a variant and tweak of that potent dweomer. Anadi’s last ward, finally, is a mighty level 8 spell, and represents a type of contingency on the power-levels of a limited wish. It should be noted that, while the pdf gets spell-formatting right a few times, it also misses a couple of italicizations.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal, good on a rules language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports a single nice new monster artwork. Cartography is solid and does its job, but no player-friendly iteration is provided. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

I really liked James C. Boney’s “The Riddle of Anadi” – it is thematically consistent and feels plausible, makes sense in many ways, and it’s a HARD, challenging dungeon to master. It’s a module worth winning, one that is creative in many of its details. At the same time, it does suffer from the two unfair instances noted above, as well as from the fact that it would have behooved the module to seed more hints and engage in a bit more foreshadowing for the PCs. That being said, in spite of these shortcomings, I found myself enjoying this adventure; it’s easily the strongest one by the author that I’ve covered so far, and while aforementioned structural snafus force me to somewhat penalize this, I will still settle for a final verdict of 4 stars. If your group enjoys hard, but winnable scenarios that can be a bit on the lethal side, then give this a shot!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #20: The Riddle of Anadi
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Malevolent & Benign II
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/18/2019 14:22:54

You can never have too many monster books in my mind. Even I use one or two per book and my players are surprised or go "what in the hell is that!?" then it is money well spent. Monsters have taught me so much over the years. Monsters lead me to Greek Mythology. Monsters helped me learn how to write code to create databases and then later helped land a DBA job while I was still in school. One day I'll update my old Access95 Monster Database, but that will have to be later.

In many ways I actually like M&B2 more than M&B1. This book is 110 pages with 150+ monsters. Again we have a color cover (which is fantastic by the way) and black & white interior. In fact all the art is a step up. If M&B 1 was akin to a MM3 or FF2 then this one is the next in line, but with no loss of quality. The monsters are new and quite deadly or at least the ones that are not deadly are interesting. I have not picked up the softcover yet, but the PDF is fantastic. 10 bucks for the pdf or 20 for the pdf + softcover book is a pretty good deal. Especially for a bunch of new monsters.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Malevolent & Benign II
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Malevolent and Benign
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/18/2019 14:11:50

You can never have too many monster books in my mind. Even I use one or two per book and my players are surprised or go "what in the hell is that!?" then it is money well spent. Monsters have taught me so much over the years. Monsters lead me to Greek Mythology. Monsters helped me learn how to write code to create databases and then later helped land a DBA job while I was still in school. One day I'll update my old Access95 Monster Database, but that will have to be later.

Malevolent and Benign has long been a staple on my game table. 128 pages with 150 monsters, all in OSRIC format. The monsters are all new (to me), with some converted from other OGC sources. The art is quite good and the feel of the book is something like a Monster Manual 3 or a Fiend Folio 2 really. It sits on my shelf right next to my monsters books, or in theory, it does. It is actually out on my game table more often than not. The softcover is very nice to have and the PDF is fully bookmarked.

The book also has a small section on new magic items associated with these monsters.

For $10 it is a good deal.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Malevolent and Benign
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Advanced Adventures #19: The Secret of the Callair Hills
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/15/2019 11:22:34

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was sponsored by one of my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience.

All right, as always for the series, we use the OSRIC rules-set, including a couple of deviations from said system’s formatting conventions; conversion to other OSR-games is pretty simple. As for level-range, the module is intended for 4-6 characters of levels 3 – 5 and it takes places in a borderlands-like frontier’s region, which is represented by a hex-crawl area. Unlike many hex-crawls, the hexes themselves aren’t numbered, instead providing terrain features etc. It should be noted that there are two overland maps – one for the general region (with a scale of 1 hex equaling 1 mile) and a second one, which takes a slightly more detailed look at the area, with a hex being equal to ½ a mile. The overland exploration does feature entries that focus on animals, humanoids and bandits, making for a subdued and quasi “realistic” take, which is something I generally enjoy. A further plus here would be that the hex maps are not boring – from rivers to hills etc., the region feels plausible and diverse enough to explore. The icons chosen to represent specific places also are easy enough to differentiate from another. The pdf does include two mini-dungeons as well, both of which cover 4 rooms arranged in a linear manner. The module, as always for the series, does not contain read-aloud text for the most part, though one of the adventure hooks does provide a bit of text for the GM.

All right, and this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. … .. . All right, only GMs around? Great! So, by frontier’s region, I meant that design and to consciously evoke the whole frontier-narrative; you see, the Callair Hills were once part of the domain of the Ynlar, a proud warrior race who kept the goblin population in check, mining and working on the silver that their native lands offered. When southern settlers came to know of these bountiful lands, the response was swift and predictable, and after a period of initial peace, greed triumphed and the Ynlar retreated to the prospectors…until their burial lands were to be settled, whereupon a bloody conflict saw them wiped out. A period of calm followed, due to political circumstances, and now, settlers had once again been sent off to Callair Hills to farm and mine. And this is where the PCs come in.

There are three hooks: Happening upon a farm where the dead still lie, getting a job offer, or being warned by settlers leaving. Callair Hills have been haunted, and folks are dying. Farms are destroyed. It’s up to the PCs to find out what happened. Okay, so this premise is per se interesting, and before you groan – it’s not a noble savage narrative that’s spun here. The map contains quite a few farms that may be destroyed, abandoned or inhabited, though no sample names or NPCs are provided. Close examination of the area will show that there are quite a few burial mounds, with skeletons inside – at least at day. At night, the skeletons (more powerful than usual) roam the area, though, oddly, this is not represented in the random encounters. An alternate table for of encounters for nighttime journeys would have been nice.

Further exploration of the area will feature the ruins of an old fort, the first of the 4-room mini-dungeons, where a scholar can potentially be used to fill the PCs in on the region’s history. While creepy, the fort has a couple of nice cultural tidbits – a means to preserve food, some cave locusts, etc. This is atmospheric, but ultimately a sidetrek and mechanically and story-wise, not relevant. You can skip the entirety of this complex and still “beat” the module.

The same does not hold true for the second mini-dungeon, the biggest burial mound in the center of the fields. Though “big” is relative – RAW, the map uses a scale of 2 feet per square, which makes the first room 10 feet wide and long. If you usually track PC positions, this can be a rather claustrophobic experience and makes running it a challenge.

This complex, once more, does a good job at establishing a culture for the Ynlan, and it contains two tomb guardian undead bodyguards resting, as well as the new creature, the barrow lord, a rather potent 7 HD undead. If the PCs plundered his tomb so far, they won’t have much choice but to attempt to destroy the undead – but if they have reigned in their avarice and act quickly, they may attempt to communicate with the undead, provided they have a means to converse with the undead. (Another way to handle this would be aforementioned scholar…) Turns out that the barrow lord swore a solemn oath to defend the ancestral lands from invaders…and clever PCs may succeed in convincing him that his undead legions have been killing harmless farmers that do not constitute invaders. Or, well, the PCs could go on an extermination crawl and clear all the mounds and destroy the barrow lord – after all, he and his undead legions have been killing innocent folks.

The pdf includes notes on further adventures in the region.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and the pdf features nice b/w-artworks that I’ve seen before. The cartography is b/w and does its job, but no player-friendly versions are provided, though the scale-decision for the final mound is puzzling and harder on the GM than it should be – most groups will need to redraw that one. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

This is the first module by Geoff Gander I’ve read, and it has potential: I like the descriptions, the theme, that it does not stoop to just providing an annoying noble savage narrative. I enjoy the subdued themes, and for a first module, this is pretty nice. However, the adventure really suffers from its brevity. Some encounters by night, some pressure, more expansive mini-dungeons, more details for the farms and overland exploration – this has the makings of a nice adventure, but its scope seems to be too much for the few pages it has to develop its ideas. I know one-page-dungeons and mini-dungeons that are meatier. This module, in short, is flimsier in content than its page-count would make you believe. You can finish this in under 4 hours, easily – even quicker if your players are very “get the job done”-style driven veterans. With 3 or 4 pages more, this could have been a really good adventure. As provided, its brevity neuters any impact it might have had, the atmospheric tidbits etc., and reduces it to a solid, if woefully short offering. My final verdict can thus not exceed 2.5 stars, rounded up only due to this being the author’s first module.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #19: The Secret of the Callair Hills
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Advanced Adventures #18: The Forsaken Sepulcher
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/04/2019 14:31:52

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review is part of a series of reviews requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.

Okay, nominally, this module is intended for 4 – 6 PCs level 10 – 15, though I certainly advise in favor of sticking to the higher end of the level-range here. The adventure, like all Advanced Adventures-modules, uses the OSRIC rules-set, and can be converted to other OSR-rules relatively easily. It should be noted, that, like the entirety of the series so far, it deviates somewhat from OSRIC’s formatting conventions, which is something that might irk you.

The module sports a couple of monsters, the first of which would be the arcanoplasm, a slimy thing that can mimic low-level arcane spells cast near it. Amalgam golems are basically stone golems that have a second mode – after 5 rounds of combat, the fiery spirit within ignites them and their constituent tar. Avmar are 12-foot tall black stone beasts with a horn, and its arms can slap targets back. Fungal renders are massive fungi that tear apart their prey with their tentacles, and they can throw themselves upon targets. The fungus has a regeneration, but does not specify an end – I assume that killing the critter ends this. Hephaestans are basically a 10 ft.tall humanoid clad in heat – a smith-race, somewhat akin to azers.

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. … .. . All right, just GMs around? Great! So, when Caleb and Trenton, two high-level adventurers, finally decided that it’s time for retirement, they concocted a get-rich-quick-scheme. Having made a living of plundering tombs of other folks, they decided that the rich and powerful would probably be rather interested in seeing their mortal remains properly secured. Thus, they ventured forth, using their considerable assets to find a barren planetoid and construct their elite sepulcher there; ostensibly impregnable. While they met their doom on an unspecified world, the sepulcher did house a total of 7 tombs when they vanished from history – though only two of them are depicted herein, with the rest up to the GM to fill in. So, if you do have a killer dungeon, it can be slotted into this rather easily.

I believe in giving credit where credit is due, and here, I really enjoy the baseline: The remoteness of the location and the legend should definitely be made clear to the players, if they hope to have a chance; it sets expectations for what this module offers in terms of lethality. On the other hand, the basic premise also falls short of what it could have been. If you expected some sort of unique hazards or planetary shenanigans from this premise, I’ll have to disappoint you. There are no unique global effects to be found that would be derived from the whole planetoid angle – 4 Dollar Dungeons’ “Panataxia”, one of my all-time favorites, did show how an analogue angle can be done much more satisfyingly. If you’re btw. a member of the old-school crowd that started sneering due to said module being for PFRPG – do at least check it out. I’m pretty positive that you’ll love it, regardless of system employed.

But I digress. This module thus contains two dungeons, which may be accessed via the per se barren hub-complex. The first module would be “The Mithraem[sic!] of Elissa”, as the map calls it. There a “u” missing there. The dungeon is thoroughly linear – while there is one instance where you can go left or right, the branches only diverge for this one room. There is another diverging branch, where one direction is basically a dead-end – other than that, the rooms pretty much follow a linear sequence. This is important, as, bingo, you guessed it – this complex is full of traps where the entrance snaps shut and wizard locks. Let’s take a look at the first trap, shall we? The floor contains grooves, and when the PCs enter the place, metal bulls with wheels materialize, and charge the PCs at 300 ft. per round, dematerialize in the back of the room, and then charge again. The room is RAW 30 ft. long, so not sure if this would imply having to make 10 checks per round. Oh, wait. Not checks. Attack rolls! You see, you must bull jump, and that is obviously done via attack rolls! Didn’t you know? The bulls also seem to be egalitarian and sentient, as, regardless of PC movement speed or timing, the PC will have to make two such attack rolls and make them to cross the room. Why? Because the module said so. That’s why. A PC hit must btw. make a Dex-check to remain standing. I assume It’s impossible to jump the bull while prone, but RAW, the book doesn’t state so.

There’s a second variant of this – a discus room that follows the same paradigm, save that, on a 20, you get decapitated. Speaking of vorpal…the gargantuan minotaurs later have, of course, vorpal axes. Yeah, you totally want your players to have two of these, right?

The room after the bull-room contains a gate that will suddenly manifest, and attempt to suck PCs into the gate. -2 penalty’d Strength check for every 5 ft. moved; on a failure, you also get 5 ft. closer to the gate. Touching it basically ends the module for you, as you are stranded in Hades. The gate is one-way. By the way: The room with the gate? It has a 20 ft.-broad ring you’ll need to navigate around the gate – at the top most, 4 saves are your margin of error there, and the pull extends 50 ft. and does not turn off. Having fun yet?

Have you realized the quasi-Greek notion? Well, do you expect hints from the vapors in the oracular room beyond? Well, tough luck! You’re actively penalized! On a save vs. spell, you either become confused, or die. And the oracle? Ghost. With a riddle. The riddle is okay, but failing to answer it will chain lightning you. Oh, and no save. Why? Because the author said so. The author also seems to fail to grasp how some basic spells work. The priestess has turned vampire, fyi. Her resurrection rite is really cool (and gory), but the rules suck: The floor’s lick with gore, so PC movement is halved, and each PC has a 50% chance falling. Yep, the thief is probably really pissed by having their abilities not taken into account by now.

The second dungeon would be the “Crypt of the Slime Mage”, which is more deadly than the previous one. It’s also divorced from real world lore, but considering how bland the Mithraeum was, I’m not too unhappy about this. The dungeon is slightly less linear, which is a nice plus – though 6 of the rooms will have to be crossed. As has by now become standard for the author, it’s the “My way or you die”-school of design; the walls are impassable, rooms slam shut and wizard lock, and you basically guess what’s meant or suffer the consequences. Know what makes high-level play cool? The stuff you can do. That you can bypass stuff, be creative. This module once more strips the PCs of their capabilities, because it’d be harder to design for.

There is an instance, where pressing 4 gemstone buttons out of sequence will power word:Kill the PCs. While not required to proceed, this is a ridiculous dick move. Speaking of which: What about a room that slams shut and wizard locks, leaving 3 rounds to escape (which is probably where the PCs find out the hard way that all their cool magic doesn’t work) before being crushed, no save. That’s literally GM-fiat TPK. The PCs can also fall into a trench of mold, and, you guessed it…save or die for a change of pace! At a -3 penalty, though. We don’t want to spoil those players, right? There is also a spear-based trap that can cripple or instantly kill the PCs hit, which is ridiculous: 3 times 1d8 HP damage and that dwarf? Toast. It may be kinda realistic, but it doesn’t fit into the concept of how OSRIC works. It highlights the discrepancy between interpretations of HP and abstraction of wounds discussion. It reads like it has been written for a completely different game. There is also a conceptually cool trap – a room that rotates, with spikes inside. Here’s the thing: Whether the PCs can exit, you roll a d10. There is a 5-in-10 chance that the exit will be available for a PC. This is abstract, and it does not matter if two PCs are adjacent or not. The exit can be in range for a PC, but out of range for his faster buddy. This is just dumb and obviously had no contact with either play at the table or an even halfway interested rules-editor or developer.

Also, what about a balor in a room that surprises 5-in-6. Why? Because. There is a non-skippable room with different traps – it is not clear which is correct, and all effects for opening them are unpleasant. In the end, the slime-lich looms. Treasure guarded by a symbol of death, for a final extended middle finger.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level, atrocious regarding rules-integrity. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf has a couple of solid b/w-artworks. The cartography is basic and does its job, but we get no player-friendly maps. The pdf comes with basic bookmarks for chapter headers, but not for rooms or dungeons.

Alphonso Warden’s “Forsaken Sepulcher” is not a return to what made “Lost Pyramid of Imhotep” worth the effort to fix for some groups. It is, design-wise, atrocious and checks off each and every instance of bad design, from arbitrary challenge-resolution mechanics, to a ton of save-(or no save)-or-die instances that are neither telegraphed, nor earned, up to the mostly bland and cookie-cutter complexes, the tombs never become interesting or rewarding to explore. I don’t object to save or die, but this adventure uses it to create an arbitrary, GM-fiat-based difficulty that violates a ton of tenets of the games we play.

The complexes herein? They are a chore. Granted, this is not as bad as his worst offerings, but it also is a long, long way from being worth the asking price or effort to play and prepare. Heck, I was in equal parts bored and infuriated while reading this module. That’s a hard thing to achieve.

This is a bad adventure, and at this point, I’m just glad that I can finish writing this review and delete this adventure from my hard drive. This module really shows that the author obviously a) either doesn’t play the game anymore or b) never has. And if he has played the game, his GM obviously was HORRENDOUS. This is not “convention-game”-challenging; it’s just a grind that I can’t even recommend to the most die-hard of punishment-gluttons among players. My final verdict will clock in at 1.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #18: The Forsaken Sepulcher
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Advanced Adventures #17: The Frozen Wave Satsuma
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/23/2019 02:55:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front/back-cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreon-supporters.

All right, so this module does have a bit of a culture-clash vibe, in that it taps into some Oriental Adventures-style content, but fret not – the material within can be slotted into pretty much any quasi-early-modern-period gaming. If you’re not familiar with some terms employed within, a brief glossary has you covered. As always for the series, the module is penned with the OSRIC rules-set in mind, but can be translated to most OSR games with relative ease. Similarly, as has become tradition for the series, formatting conventions do deviate from the standards set by OSRIC, but are pretty concise in these instances.

The module contains 5 new magic items – one that allows a horse to move through underbrush and not be tracked, a figurine, and two ice-themed items that help mitigate the environmental challenges faced within. The most interesting item presented would be a harp that can lock listeners ina loop of their last actions. The new monsters aren’t particularly interesting as far as I’m concerned. Two are provided, an ice-squid and a sahuagin-variant with tentacles for legs. The latter is, somewhat unfortunately named “Krabben”, which is the German plural for crabs. They have nothing to do with either meaning here. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

The complex to be explored within is fully mapped in b/w, but no player-friendly iteration is provided. The adventure is intended for a group of level 3 – 5 characters, though it should be noted that the players should behave in a smart manner – otherwise, they may encounter something that may well see them wiped out. Apart from a brief section of introductory prose, the module has no read-aloud text.

In order to discuss the adventure in more detail, I will need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. … .. . All right, only GMs around? Great! So, when an oriental magic-user turned bonkers, things took a rather uncommon turn: The magic-user turned north, supporter by his ogre-mage and ice-elven buddies, and managed to secure the eyes of frost men, using them in a rite to craft a ginormous junk (the ship!) from ice itself – the eponymous Frozen Wave Satsuma. Recruiting the notoriously nasty wako (basically pirates), he set sail to plunder the realms of barbarians (i.e. Westerners, i.e. the realms of your players), just as the magics that hold the vessel together continuously chip away at his mental state. It’s been a few weeks since the alien vessel has started haunting the coastal regions, and it’ll be up to the PCs are trouble-solvers to stop the raids that set forth from the unearthly ship once and for all.

As far as premises are concerned, this is already better than a ton of modules out there, and the ship of ice, with its frigid temperatures, icy mists and slippery surface makes it clear that the complex is just as much the enemy as the foes faced. The global effects of the dungeon help to constantly remind the players in which type of weird ship they will find themselves. Lighting conditions etc., the need for footwear and the like – all is concisely presented, including taking tracking etc. into account – and that is important, for the module has a timer of sorts. When the PCs assault the Frozen Wave Satsuma, a seriously massive raiding party is currently…well…raiding! They will return sooner or later, and if the PCs have by then not made sure that they have a valid plan to deal with them, they will find themselves overwhelmed.

The good thing here is that the terrain and “dungeon” offer plenty of ways for clever players to deal with this issue: You see, the ship is VAST, cavernous, and actually pretty dangerous. The deeper holds and decks are infused with darksome magics, generating an almost palpable sense of foreboding, one that is contrasted in interesting ways by small tidbits like noting that a character is a master of rhino-karate. The hostile NPCs/commanders present also feel alive – curious players that play their cards right may find out a lot about the power-dynamics, relationships etc. of the characters on board, which could well yield the edge they need to survive if things go wrong. Or, well, they can also try to murder-hobo everybody…but considering that there is e.g. a level 8 samurai on board, this may be a tougher call than what you’d imagine.

The PCs can free slaves, reclaim pillaged relics, and end the threat of the Satsuma, they can free e.g. a snow leopard to attempt to get the beast to deal with the overwhelming force of wako; they can attempt to use the creepy (and deadly) haunt-like effects inside to shake off pursuers…there is but one thing that felt like an utterly unnecessary addition here, and that would be the partially flooded lowest level, where the Krabben, including the ice-squid lurk. Their presence doesn’t make that much sense and feels like a late addition that dilutes the focus of the module a bit. On the plus-side, if you don’t mind their inclusion, they can act as a good further adventure hook – not that the module would have required it.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good, if not perfect –a pronunciation guide for the glossary would have been nice and I noticed a few instances of spell-references etc. not formatted correctly. Layout adheres to the no-frills classic 2-column b/w-standard of the series, and the pdf sports a few pieces of solid b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The lack of player-friendly versions of the b/w-maps is a comfort-detriment.

Joseph Browning and Andrew Hind joining forces on this one was a good call indeed. “The Frozen Wave Satsuma” may be a short module, but it actually manages to capture the spirit of old-school modules, the nostalgia these types of adventure aim for WITHOUT being derivative. This is a huge plus in my book. The interesting complex, combined with the design-aesthetics highlighted throughout the module, ultimately makes this feel like a lost classic. It recaptures that ephemeral flavor AND manages to be novel and interesting. Is it perfect? Nope. I’d have loved to see more detailed tactics, perhaps means for PCs to hijack the vessel…

But honestly? This module has entertained me more in its 13 pages than many modules of twice that length. It is easily one of the best installments in the series, and one that I’d definitely recommend checking out. This managed to capture my imagination, and really achieves attaining the goal that this series of adventures has – to provide new modules that feel like classics. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars…and while the formal criteria-hiccups would usually prevent me from doing so, this one really captured my imagination, which is why it also receives my seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #17: The Frozen Wave Satsuma
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Advanced Adventures #16: Under Shattered Mountain
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/14/2019 10:13:14

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience.

So, as always for the Advanced Adventures-series, this module is intended for OSRIC-rules, but adaption to another OSR rule-set is very much possible. Nominally intended for 5 – 8 characters level 9 – 12, the adventure is very modular and represents more of a sandboxy backdrop than a unified narrative, and it should be noted that, difficulty-level wise, the adventure ranks in the upper echelon. There are a few encounters herein that are very dangerous and that will potentially destroy careless or unlucky players. These are not always telegraphed that well in advance, so an old-school mindset that can deal with character-death is very much recommended. On the definite plus-side, it should be mentioned that the more intelligent adversaries do get tactics that set them apart and help the GM render them appropriately dangerous, making them stand out a bit more than they’d otherwise would.

As far as supplemental materials are concerned, we get 4 new monsters – a pretty deadly toadstool critter, cavern crows that can be driven into a frenzy by the scent of blood, the lightning devil, and a unique devil are provided, all with appropriate stats. As far as adversaries are concerned, some beloved classics can be encountered, and a few of them are surprising – but I’ll get into that below.

The pdf does contain two new magic user spells: At 3rd level, we have Hestler’s Verbal Disruptor, which generates a white noise style acoustic-dead zone, is an interesting one. Black Embrace, a 7th level spell, booby-traps a corpse, which will embrace the living, draining their life-force. Cool visuals there.4 magic items are included as well, with experience and GP values noted properly. One of them, a flask that can be used to poison targets or be harmless, is nice, though here, a deviation from OSRIC’s default assumption of save-or-die for poisons would have imho made sense from a design perspective. A cooldown or countdown of sorts would have certainly made falling prey to that item less frustrating. One of the items is cursed, and honestly, it may actually be fairer than this one. A bloodsucking dagger (with rather nice mechanics) and a rod are also part of the deal here.

Now, before we go into SPOILER-territory, let’s briefly talk about how this is set apart from most modules: Shattered Mountain is vast, and as such, it contains miles upon miles of tunnels that lead from a) to b) – in a way, it is reminiscent of a wilderness crawls inside a mountain, limited by the claustrophobic tunnels. This structure allows and encourages insertion of your own adventure modules and scenarios and characterizes this firmly as more of a backdrop than a primary narrative. This is also further emphasized by the random encounters table, which is pretty hefty and feels down to earth enough.

In fact, the lion’s share of the adventure is taken up by a variety of not necessarily connected encounters, each of which comes with its own functional little map. These are NOT aligned in a linear manner, which, once more, represents a big plus as far as I’m concerned. On a downside, the respective areas (10 of which are provided) are designated with letters: “Area F”, for example. However, on the respective maps, we have starting positions of dynamic adversaries, for example, also denoted by letters. When you look are the map of “Area B” and read “A, B, C”, you can’t help but feel that this choice of labeling wasn’t too wise. Using Roman or Arabic numbers, glyphs, whatever, would have been more comfortable for the GM in these cases.

Beyond these encounters, there is a more conventional 2-level mini-dungeon included here… But in order to discuss more of the details of this adventure, I will have to go into SPOILER-territory. From here on out, I strongly urge potential players to skip ahead to the conclusion to avoid SPOLERS. … .. . All right, only GMs around? Great! So, among the encounters, we have, among other things, a slightly loopy fungal druid (including the series’ by now traditional deviations from OSRIC’s formatting conventions), a tribe of troglodytes, aforementioned cavern crows in conjunction and cohabitation with gargoyles, trolls, earth elementals, stone giants – the aesthetics here seem to be deliberately close to what you’d expect from a classic AD&D adventure – whether you consider that to be a bug or a feature depends on your own tastes. For the most part, I have to admit to being not exactly blown away by them, as the terrain simply doesn’t matter as much as it probably should. Compared to the fantastic “Stonesky Delve”, the caverns under shattered mountain feel quite a bit more sterile. I did mention that this module can be really deadly, and perhaps unfairly so. This claim primarily stems from one of the encounters, which springs not one, but two very old red dragons on the PCs – once they pass a certain threshold, they’ll be blasted by not one, but two breath weapons. No, the dragons are not hostile to another; they work together.

While it is “realistic” in a way that going down the wrong tunnel may get you killed, I did not consider this one to be particularly fair or enjoyable. There is no foreshadowing here, and I’d strongly advise GMs to seed some warning signs for the players. Otherwise, this is pretty much one of the bad “Lol, you die”-type of old-school encounters that doesn’t earn its lethality.

More fair, if certainly no less deadly, would be aforementioned mini-dungeon: Sheth, aforementioned unique devil, has his own little complex that spans a total of 21 keyed locations. This mini-dungeon is a hackfest in the purest sense, and if you’re looking for some good ole’ murder hobo-ing, this’ll do, perfectly. From the gorgon guardians to a lamia to twin rooms housing no less than 6 (!!) stone golems in total, this complex is brutal. Said lamia has btw. high-level adventurers and a trolls charmed, making the encounter function somewhat akin to handling rival adventurers. We even find nilbogs here, and as a whole, this dungeon is deadly, but cool – there is for example a really cool trap, where a collective of screaming magic mouths may render the PCs unconscious. While this can TPK a group, mundane means to offset the trap (as well as magical brute-forcing) are viable tactics, making this a cool example of a trap that has more than one step, and one that rewards player skill over PC luck. I really liked that one. Sheth and his cohorts are similarly a challenging and cool final encounter. Here is a lost chance, though – the lightning devils and the pool featured in the final encounter don’t really interact, and as cool as some of the trap/hazard-related aspects of the complex are, they don’t extend to actual interaction with the creatures, which makes them feel a bit more sterile than they’d otherwise seem.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good of a formal level, though there are deviations from OSRIC’s formatting conventions. On a rules-language level, I’d consider this to be precise and well-crafted. Layout adheres to the two-column b/w-standard of the series, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf features no interior artwork beyond the editorial page, and cartography in b/w is functional and solid. However, no player-friendly, unlabeled versions have been provided.

James C. Boney can write really, really cool dungeons. The author gets the theme and tropes of classic fantasy really well, and I am particularly enjoying the tactics of his adversaries, as well as the creative and fair traps that his modules mostly seem to feature. At the same time, I couldn’t help but being somewhat unimpressed by this offering.

I love the notion of Shattered Mountain. The crawling through labyrinthine, lengthy tunnels is something I really love. Heck, I’ve written more than one book devoted to the theme of subterranean gaming. That being said, this feels, whether by design or by lack of inspiration, somewhat cookie-cutter in what the encounters offer. They are pretty segregated from one another, and theme-wise, there is no encounter within that I couldn’t have improvised on my own. On the plus-side, the mini-dungeon makes for a rather enjoyable hackfest – I can see that one work great for a fun convention game, for example. If you’re looking for a hard, but fun hackfest, the mini-dungeon included certainly delivers.

Still, this module has the somewhat unfortunate timing of having been released after “Stonesky Delve”, which not only offers a more alive, terrain-wise interesting adventure with verticality, nooks and crannies to explore, etc. – it also offers much more bang for your buck. This is by no means a bad adventure or hub/backdrop, but it also could have been much more. If “vanilla” AD&D flavor is what you’re looking for, then this delivers – if not, then you’ll be better off with “Stonesky Delve” or similar adventures. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #16: Under Shattered Mountain
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Advanced Adventures #14: The Verdant Vault of Malakum
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/18/2018 10:18:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at only 9 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, ½ a page of SRD, leaving us with 6.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreons.

As always, this Advanced Adventures-module uses the OSRIC rule-set, but can be theoretically converted easily to other rule-sets. The adventure is designated as suitable for levels 8 – 10 and works best with a well-rounded party and…Pffff BUAHAHAHA … …I can’t do that. I just can’t. The Verdant Vault of Malakum’s brevity is a plus. No, I am not going to dignify this with a SPOILER-warning. Damn. I just did that, didn't I? No one should attempt to play this. From the get-go, we realize what we have actually bought here: The vault is 3 miles away from the settlement…and then, the module continues to talk about how slowly the PCs can get through the jungle, noting that they can only cover 4 miles per day. … Notice something? We get a list of random encounter monsters (nothing interesting here), and that’s not all. In the jungle, turning undead is penalized. Why? Because the jungle is EEEVUHLL. … The entrance to the vault of the erstwhile despot Malakum is a stone head, flanked by basaltic columns. These are ropers concealed by illusions and surprise 5 times in 6. Means to detect? Nope. This dickishness is just a taste of the things to come. In the vault, we have -6 to turning undead. And every 3rd and 7th of the 60 steps down into the dungeon is trapped. Tedious, even for super-methodical groups? Yes. Not telegraphed? Yes. Boring and bad design? Heck yes. If the PCs stumble into them, the slide will dump them in a pool of slimes that all hit automatically. Oh joy. That’s harmless as far as this module is concerned.

Know these “great” modules that do NOT account for PC capability, instead neutering them or forcing them to basically guess what the author wants them to do? You know, the author’s extended middle finger à la “EFF your rules, you will do this as I intended or die horribly?” Yeah, well, we have the like herein. A lot of it. There is a room that is basically an elemental maelstrom: There are quasi-Egyptian hieroglyphs here (included as visual representations) that represent the 4 elements, and that the PCs must hit to cancel the respective elemental pain. (Magic-users will not survive here.) Oh, and how this trap works is utterly obtuse in its wording. I had to read it 3 times. The few monsters herein don’t really have a strong leitmotif. Babau, a shambling mound and yellow musk zombies. No creeper. There is one interesting hazard/creature synergy, a venus man-trap that combines violet fungus rot and deadly bites – but the formatting is weird here. Why isn’t this listed like a creature? You know, like the fungi? And no, they can’t avoid damage or properly bypass this or any other one, even if the players get/guess how a trap or hazard works.

This is something to bear in mind: The Verdant Vault of Malakum is a thoroughly linear dungeon. There is no way to bypass any room within. Remember that.

So, the boss, Malakum, is a greater mummy, the rooms wizard lock and slam shut all the time...blablabla. Nothing you wouldn’t expect from the author at this point. If you expected a plant-dungeon: Nope. There are a few plant monsters, but the dungeon per se does not have any semblance of a proper leitmotif or cultural identity. Oh, and there is this nice trap in the beginning. Where (black) tentacles spawn from the walls. If 4 hit you (save vs. spell, fyi), they tear you apart. Death. No save. Because that totally is how being hit with multiple tentacles works in any (A)D&D-related game I know. Each PC is targeted by 4 of them. Per round.

Ah, and there is an obtuse relief-based puzzle and the utterly baffling “Path of Stars.” This room has a black floor, 30 ft. below. Motes of light dance on it. Touching the floor…is instant death, no save. If you really strain, you can hear the author’s ethereal whispers of “EFFF You.” That’s how this whole room reads like. And yes, for funsies, if you touch the white motes of stars, you…die; if you touch the black void, you….BINGO, also die, no save. Sounds legit.

You know, because it’s a piece of the night sky, transplanted here. No, this is not telegraphed in any way. Just getting started. The PCs can activate platforms that levitate down, which flip over in a 1-second rhythm. One side is safe (oddly, the white one…you know, white like the motes that kill you, no save, when touching the equivalent on floor below), while the other evaporates you if you fail a -4 save vs. spell. Of COURSE, you can’t teleport or fly here. That’d be actually…you know…use of resources. Not even CLEVER use of resources, mind you, but damn cookie-cutter adventuring…but using that would contradict the author’s utterly baffling and random fiat, so this module raises a middle finger to your players. Play like dumb drones and walk into the unavoidable traps. You know, like you’re in a bad computer game.

Thought that this isn’t so bad? Okay, do you know how you cross it? Dexterity check at -3 to jump ON AND to jump OFF. Depending on how you read the crappy, imprecise wording, you either arrive at 9 (!!) or 18 (!!!) consecutive Dexterity checks at a “-3 penalty”. Okay…isn’t that supposed to be a +3 penalty? You know, because of roll under as a default? Never mind that OSRIC’s rules explicitly state that such things should not necessarily require skill-like checks… I swear to any deity, imagined or real, that may or may not exist, that I am NOT making this stuff up. That’s actually what’s in this module. An excerpt. Of the mercifully short adventure. Told you that this being so short was a good thing. And before you ask: No, you can’t turn off the whole thing. Just sending the thief across won’t save the other characters.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting on a formal level are good. On a rules-language level, this is a mess. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has no interior artwork apart from the glyphs. The map is functional and b/w, and no player-friendly (MUAHAHA – the only way these words will ever find their way into a review of this adventure) map has been provided.

Alphonso Warden’s “The Verdant Vault of Malakum” is an unmitigated mess. I try, very hard, to see the positive in all supplements I review. Heck, I derived some sense of fun from his messy, but somewhat inspired “Lost Pyramid of Imhotep” meatgrinder. I do try.

The nicest thing I can say about this one, though, is that reading it didn’t waste much of my time, as it’s shorter and slightly less boring than the atrocious “Prison of Meneptah.”

This adventure has not seen any contact with realities at the table, with actual players. It feels like a product of a frustrated author, who has read, but never actually played the game AND who has no idea how game design, math, rules language, etc. work. There is NOTHING to salvage here.

How crappy is this? Even if you guess the author’s fiat correctly and somehow manage to correctly determine the arbitrary limitations imposed on PC capabilities, even if you basically hand out the module’s text and have your PCs run through it, they’ll STILL DIE, unless they are ridiculously lucky.

You can check. The math, thankfully, is not that hard to check for OSR-games. It is painfully obvious that no one even bothered trying to check the basics here.

This module’s “challenge” is just about dumb luck.

There is no skill on the side of either the PCs or the player’s side involved.

This feels like the spiteful AND phoned-in response of someone who read “Tomb of Horrors” or Grimtooth supplements and thought “Well, this is dumb – skill can actually avoid some of these ridiculously lethal death traps! Oh, I know, I can replace that with requiring dumb luck! Ha! That will most assuredly make gamers happy! ‘Cause, you know, that’s what makes roleplaying so cool, right?”

This is worse than a permadeath videogame with sucky RNG.

I can’t imagine that ANY group out there finished this adventure without copious amounts of GM handwaving, redesigns and/or vast death tolls. This is a horrible, sloppy mess.

I am genuinely sorry for the paper that I used to print this adventure’s few pages. And I printed the pages on both sides. That makes 5 sheets of paper wasted on this module. As I close this review, I am deleting this adventure. It’s not worth the space on my hard drive. I try to end on a positive side. Thanks to the adventure’s brevity, only 5 sheets of paper were wasted. And these will now go where they belong. In the trash bin, hopefully to be recycled into something more meaningful than this. Like tissues. Final verdict: 1 star.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #14: The Verdant Vault of Malakum
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Advanced Adventures #15: Stonesky Delve
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/03/2018 04:31:03

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures series clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.

Okay, first of all, this is, as all Advanced Adventures-modules, written for the OSRIC system, but conversions to other OSR-systems are easy enough. The formatting deviates in some aspects from OSRIC’s formatting conversions. This module is intended for characters level 4 – 7, though it should be noted that it requires a smart and well-rounded group to excel – this is old-school in that PCs not smart enough to run in some instances, will indeed die. Horribly, I might add. The pdf does not sport read-aloud text beyond the brief introductory prose, which means that this needs to be properly prepared.

There is another special thing to note here: “Stonesky Delve” is the first tournament module in the series, and as such, it spends quite a lot of space to explain how to run and judge the performance of the adventuring groups. One page is devoted to the time scoring sheet, one to the exploration scoring sheet, and two pages contain a total of 10 pregens. While I applaud the inclusion of so many pregens, it’s annoying that you have to basically copy their stats by hand. The equipment of all characters are on the back of the page.

Now, the tournament framework means that the module is intended to be run in two 4-hour slots; in-game, the PCs get a cave moth pupa that will hatch in 72 hours, for the PCs have to spend at least 72 hours in-game exploring the complex…and a maximum of 120 hours. So yeah, we have a time-limit here, which is smart, as it adds a degree of urgency to the proceedings. Indeed, the framework is simple: The PCs are hired by dwarves to explore and map caverns where ancient dwarven holds may be found. This is also the reason I don’t mind the lack of player-friendly maps here – it is, after all, the task of PCs to map this place. It should be noted that, unlike most convention/tournament modules, this may be hard, but it’s NOT just a meatgrinder! This, if anything, behaves more like a ROLEplaying module than all previously-released installments in the series. It should also be noted that the module can easily be sliced in two, should you desire to do so.

The pdf sports a couple of unique/variant monsters – an umber hulk variation, a predator with a massive tongue that works best in conjunction with piercers (cool!), a three-tongued giant frog, a spitting gibbering mouther variant, and the classic vampire moss also gets stats. These feel down to earth and somewhat plausible. Solid.

All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, one glance on the map will show you what sets the first aspect of the module apart from many others: the first dungeon of the module represents an exploration of the caves of the eponymous Stonesky, but unlike countless modules out there, this complex manages to really evoke a sense of plausible fantasy spelunking. This is, in part due to the clever positioning of enemies, which are chosen and placed in order to evoke a sensible illusion of a subterranean eco-system; at the same time, the complex is set apart by its focus on verticality: When you’re rappelling down a massive tunnel next to a waterfall, and try to get down in the middle of the place to avoid being eaten by cave morays, you’ll know what I mean. The complex comes with a side-view and a top-down map of this area to help you picture the complex.

This sense of fantastic spelunking is absolutely amazing and enjoyable, and, more importantly, it rewards the exploration that is part of the central story angle: Thorough players can, for example, find a well-hidden cavern where the echoes of a dwarven deity’s words resound. This secret is rewarded well regarding scoring, and is but one aspect of the adventure. Aforementioned waterfall? Curious PCs that brave the tunnel can find a leaking decanter of endless water as the source, as well as the remains of a being. This commitment to details and player agenda over rolling the dice is evident in many details: Smart PCs can avoid combats and hazards, and exploration is thoroughly rewarded, and blends the plausible quasi-realism of spelunking with the wonderful magical sprinklings that made the best of the AD&D modules of old stand out. Danger and rewards are closely entwined, and player-skill trumps dice rolling.

PCs can accidentally flood passages with slightly acidic water, and from cramped spaces to vast differences in height, the cave complex is absolutely fantastic: In one cavern, the PCs may happen upon the resting place of Radivither the Breaker, a dwarf of the first generation, he who discovered theft, death, insanity and murder – a mighty impulse and spirit, he is not a combat encounter: Instead, Radivither acts as a kind of haunt/possessing, malignant entity – but encountering this deadly echo can also provide a great boon to the dwarves that hired the PCs. This commitment to focusing on player- as opposed to PC-agenda also can be found in the tunnel that allows the PCs to make their way to the second part of the module: To get there, the PCs have to pass a magical means that prevents access, seemingly preventing progress. The means to bypass this magic is to walk the corridor backwards. Really cool!

Part II of the adventure, the Hold of Dwergma, is a more conventional dungeon without the verticality of the cavern complex that preceded this place; the complex comes with a sewer system that clever PCs can (and should) use – for there is a mighty (and insane) cleric/magic-user here, one who can and will annihilate careless PCs if they do not take care…particularly since the fellow actually gets a detailed tactics breakdown. The PCs can encounter an animated stone fist with flawed intruder detection; hallucinatory tobacco, ancient tomes of lore (noted with title, weight and gp-value), a grue-like thing and a flail snail – the inhabitants are well chosen, the complex is smart and flavorful, and e.g. traps are telegraphed in a fair manner. That being said, this second part does not reach the amazing creativity of the first part of the module, feeling more like a classic denouement to the potentially fantastic things that you can encounter in the first half.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a rules-language level; on a formal level, the pdf has a couple more typo-level glitches than usual for the series. Layout adheres to the classic two-column b/w-standard of the series, and we get a couple of solid b/w-artworks. The cartography is b/w and solid, and the existence of a side-view map of part I of the module is a plus. Due to the presence of the PCs-do-cartography-angle, I won’t complain about the lack of player-friendly maps. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Joseph Browning delivers pure old-school goodness in this module. Stonesky delve feels fantastic and plausible, evocative and dangerous, and remains, in spite of its harsh challenges, FAIR. This adventure rewards skillful players over good rolls of the bones, presents a great blend of strange flora and fauna and truly fantastic, hazard-laden caverns. The presence of consequences left and right, the constant rewarding of clever play, and the smart diversity of challenges faced all blend together to make the first part of this module downright amazing. Part II of the module falls a bit short of the fantastic wonder evoked by the first half on the adventure. The presentation of the helpful pregens is not exactly perfect, though. Still, as a whole, this most assuredly makes for one of the best adventures in the series – at least among those that I’ve covered so far. The first part is fantastic and warrants getting this adventure on its own; the second part, while not as strong, is still a good adventure. As a whole, one can consider this to be a great old-school module, well worth checking out, and as such, this receives a final verdict of 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #15: Stonesky Delve
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