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Advanced Adventures #35: The Desert Shrine of the Sightless Sisters
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
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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DARK PLACES & DEMOGORGONS - The Cryptid Manual - An OSR Bestiary
Publisher: Bloat Games
by A customer [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/02/2019 15:03:25

I’ll begin by admitting I love cryptozoology. I mean, really love it. Cryptids—monsters that science says doesn’t exist but legend say might just—are endlessly fascinating and have found their way into several of the non-fiction books I’ve written over the years. As I result, when I learned about Bloat Games’ Cryptid’s Manual, I was instantly excited.

This ‘Monster Manual’ for Dark Places and Demogorgons clocks in at 92 pages. The stunning cover, an atmospheric depiction of chupacabra, only increased my anticipation. I couldn’t wait to crack it open and take a look!

The book begins with the Hope Excerpts, supposed excerpts from the journal of an explorer searching the Staff of Bel, an ancient artifact that was used by Sumerian priests—and later heroes of other cultures from Greece to India—to defeat monsters. With the fall of Rome in 476, the staff was claimed and then destroyed by a hairy 9-foot tall Barbarian (perhaps as Almas of Central Asia?), its pieces scattered around the globe. Our explorer seeks to find these fragments and reconstitute the staff to defeat monsters that dwell in the shadowy recesses of our world.

All right, so that out of the way, let us get to the meat of the book and check out the monsters themselves. There are 55 in total, pulled from legend and lore the world over—from skinwalkers and thunderbirds of Native American culture to the mokele-mbembe of Africa, the Mongolian death worm of Asia, and the bunyip of Australia all regions are covered. There’s a strong European and North American leaning, however, which is understandable as the average reader would be most familiar with these cryptids. From North America we get the hodag, Jersey Devil, and Sheepsquatch, while kelpies, medusa, spriggans are among those culled from European sources. We also get 8 species of hairy hominids and 5 types of extraterrestrials.

For every instantly recognizable hellhound of wendigo, we get one—mishipeshu, nain rouge, or sheckles, anyone—that is more obscure. I’ve been reading and writing about cryptozoology for years and yet there were still some surprises in store for me—nice!

A page or two is devoted to each cryptid, which comes with game stats (naturally), as well as some—admittedly brief—details on its habits or physiology, and quite often a sentence or two of flavor text in the form of brief testimony from supposed eyewitnesses. I was really impressed with the way the mechanics were used to evocatively bring the monsters to life. It would have been really easy, for example, to make the eight hairy hominids statistically identical, but instead each comes across as quite unique, accurately reflecting differing cultural views.

The beautiful artwork deserves particular praise. Creatures are often shadowy and somewhat indistinct, lacking in details. This is perfectly in keeping with the nature of the subject matter. Cryptids are elusive, fleetingly—if ever—seen, and testimony often differs enormously in specific details. Presenting the monsters this fashion means something is left to the imagination. It’s a brilliant design choice and gives the book a distinctive look.

The book then concludes by providing a number of templates that can be added to the assembled cryptids, or indeed any creature. They include giant, rabid, radioactive, were-beast (were-skunk ape from the deep bayous—cool!), vampiric (an undead, bloodsucking sheepsquatch—even cooler!), and zombie.

Conclusion

Editing is excellent and the rules not only constituent but expertly handled throughout. I couldn’t find a single flaw. The layout is a thing of artistry, the occasional blood splatter adding to the illusion you’re reading a Top Secret file that Powers are desperate to keep under wraps.

Jodie Brandt and Josh Palmer have written an awesome offering: The supplement provides endless hours of adventuring opportunity by breathing life into some of legend’s best cryptids. Each monster represents an adventure-in-waiting.

The book offers, thus, a ton of excellent fuel for creative GMs. Heck, you could play an entire campaign with just the creatures continued within. It’s an invaluable—even vital—resource for Dark Places and Demogorgons game masters.

My final verdict is an enthusiastic 5 stars. I can’t recommend it enough.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
DARK PLACES & DEMOGORGONS - The Cryptid Manual - An OSR Bestiary
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The Tomb of Xenophon: Micro-Dungeon Adventure (5e)
Publisher: Middle Kingdoms Adventure & Trading Co.
by A customer [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/24/2019 10:53:05

The Tomb of Xenophon The first 5e release by Middle Kingdoms Adventures and Trading Company, authored by Frank Turfler, clocks in at all of 2-pages.

This pdf is a micro-dungeon adventure, and as such my brief discussion of the supplement contains minor SPOILERS. Potential players should kindly find an exit and stop reading.

So this is pretty much what it says in the product description—a micro-dungeon of seven rooms on a single page. In such a limited space, I don’t expect epic storylines. But the Tomb of Xenophon hints at one, even though it isn’t fully realized in the text. Long ago a tyrannical sorcerer king named Xenophon was struck down and his army scattered in an epic battle. The slain warlord’s body was carried off by the remnants of his army and buried in a tomb built from the bones of the fallen.

To commemorate the victory, a rune stone, which came to be known as ‘the Sorcerer’s Stone’, was raised in the city near where the epic battle was won. Time marched on and Xenophon was confined to ancient history. Today, the city of Stonehold has been struck a deadly blow by plague. A local priest believes the Sorcerer’s Stone is to blame. He believes the stone is cursed, that it rightly belongs to Xenophon and should have been buried deep and dark with its fallen master. He pleads for PCs to steal the artifact and place it in the lair, sealing it and its evil away forever.

Wow. That’s pretty epic and intense stuff. Sadly, two-pages aren’t enough to allow Turfler to explore this any further. The theft of the stone and the journey to the tomb is hand-waived away. The adventure begins where many dungeon-crawls do: at the entrance to the tomb, with the PCs on the precipice of whatever dangers lurk ahead.

Turfler manages to fit the dungeon on a single page by way of a pretty ingenious design decision: Room descriptions are absolutely barebones, making use of default stats and with only the most relevant of details, and confined a box of text adjacent to the relevant room. This by definition means that details are sparse, there’s little in the way of elaboration of story, and some questions—including one or two that are really important to the plot—remain unanswered (GMs will need to work them out on their own).

While exploring the tomb adventurers are faced with standard low-level foes to vanquish, a handful of traps and obstacles to overcome, a simple puzzle to solve, and some treasure to loot. Other than that, it’s, well, a 7-room tomb. That being said, the module does something interesting I did not expect—the big bad has already risen and gone from his tomb. Further adventure awaits! Cool.

Editing and formatting are very good, and the the Tomb of Xenophon is balanced for a group of first level characters (though curiously nowhere is it actually written what levels the adventure is designed for). The cover is gorgeous, evoking a sense of dread and deadly peril within the tomb. The cartography is beautiful and the layout so utilitarian that the adventure can literally be picked up and played in minutes, or indeed even on the fly.

This mini-adventure is, imho, best used as a quick pick-up when a game-master simply must have a scenario for his players and needs it like NOW. The game-master should have some experience under her belt, however, as she will need to fill in gaps the sparse text inevitably creates.

The actual tomb is not particularly inspired, but in one page there’s only so much detail, story or innovation one can expect. Yet the scenario manages to evoke an impressive amount of atmosphere—mostly as a result of the backstory—in a mere two pages.

If not for the sheer utility is represents it would probably fall in the 2.5-3 star range. But as a scenario that can be used at a moment’s notice for a couple hours of dungeon-crawling, at a $1.99 price point, it definitely represents good value. My final verdict: 3.5 stars.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Tomb of Xenophon: Micro-Dungeon Adventure (5e)
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Space Adventures - X!
Publisher: Beyond Belief Games
by A customer [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/06/2019 10:46:39

Thus product clocks in at 13 pages with a nice retro sci-fi cover that is evocative of the genre the game is meant to emulate. Let’s open it up and take a look!

Sometimes you want to play a game but don’t want—or have the time—to read and digest massive tomes to get a mastery of the rules. Beyond Belief Games’ X-series of thematic games are designed to do just that. Based on OSR rules that most of us are familiar with, a GM can digest rules and be ready to within half an hour. Players, meanwhile, can have characters ready to blast off in rocket ships and battle aliens with beam guns within minutes of parking themselves around the table.

In Space Adventures-X characters choose from one of five simple archetypal classes, including Scientists, Envoy, Scoundrel, Space Ace, and Psychic—a solid and logical selection enabling players to reproduce any of the characters that populated 1950s space action comic books. Each character class boasts unique abilities that enable them to do a surprisingly diverse range of things—the Envoy, for example, can glean valuable information about an individual simply by studying them, can charm people to get their way, can eves-drop on private conversations, has access to vast resources, and master obscure skills (perhaps disguise, law, or acting) that can come in handy. In true OSR fashion, much of how these abilities can be applied is left to GM interpretation and player imagination. This encourages ‘role’ playing over ‘roll’ playing, and means the game is surprisingly flexible.

Much of game play should be familiar to most players, with ubiquitous AC, hit points, saves, and so forth. Simple but effective space combat rules are included, as well as eleven sample spacecraft—from rocket ships and flying saucers to massive warships.

As a cool bonus, we get thirteen sample aliens to battle, each one a classic trope in early sci-fi comics and illustrated with public domain art. We get psychic worms, hungry plants, vengeful robot-men and territorial bird people, among others.

Finally, there’s a table of weapons and gear.

In playtest, Space Adventures X proved to be smooth and engrossing. Within minutes, my players were completely immersed in the spirit of the genre—gleefully spouting techno-babble while performing heroic derring-do. Kudos!

Conclusion: editing and formatting are very good, and after playtest I noticed no mechanical hiccups. We get a number of nice full-colour public domain artwork inside.

Beyond Belief Games provides a fun and creative little game that manages, despite its brevity, to capture the essence of the genre it is meant to pay homage to. Though the book is brief and the text limited it nonetheless manages to evoke the fun and optimism of these golden age comics. Considering the limited room available, this is an impressive achievement. 5 stars.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Space Adventures - X!
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