A Trail of Poison
By Thilo Graf
This adventure from Headless Hydra Games is 29 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page dedication, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD and 2 pages advertisements, leaving 23 pages for the adventure, so let’s check it out!
The first thing you’ll notice when reading this book is the beautiful layout: Headless Hydra’s layout is nice, concise and features the two-column standard. the mostly b/w-artwork is cool and offers some nice pictures to show off to your players.
This being an adventure-review, it contains SPOILERS, so potential players please beware and jump to the conclusion.
Still here? All right:
The basic plot line is rather simple: Animals and even magical beasts have been poisoned and the PCs are hired by a local druid to investigate a dark, spider-infested forest, unearthing the truth: One member of the coven of the Night Hag ( the grand villain of the Mor Aldenn setting) has unearthed an artefact of an archmage of old and uses the artefact to force animals and even magical beasts like unicorns to drink from a poisoned lake, thus killing them. The PCs follow the trail of dead creatures and marauding lizardfolk (strange choices as enemies – they usually are rather depicted as the noble savages instead of brutish goons that don’t care about nature) to a dying unicorn at the edge of a sanctuary (which is not detailed). While the riddle and exposition provided are nice, the unicorn nevertheless just feels like it’s there for shock value. After that, the PCs venture towards the tower of a curiously absent archmage (that gets a professionally done map) and battle through the enemies (mostly lizardfolk) and finally kill the perpetrator, a green hag and her right-hand maiden, an insane harpy. The adventure concludes with the PCs looting the as of yet untouched upper level of the tower and defeating the final guardian the archmage left.
While the adventure, as per the summary, seems straight-forward enough, I’ve encountered several problems with this one you ought to know about: First of all, this adventure is a railroad. Yes, it’s a wilderness adventure, but there is ONE way to the goal and only one. PCs are penalized by wasted time IRL and random encounters when not succeeding in a tracking check, while the timeline is actually inconsequential for the adventure. There’s no need to hurry. The adventure also hits a pet peeve of mine and provides a LOT of easily gained treasure in the tower. E.g. some standard lizardfolk fighting over a flaming shortspear. I’m against magic item inflation and very much for rather unique ones, but oh well – that’s a personal preference and will not influence my final verdict. What will influence it, however, is the fact that the villain’s “masterplan” is flat-out STUPID. DUMB. MAKES NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. Want me to elaborate? There you go!
The plot-device (TM) artefact is an orb that lets you, once per hour, put a geas on an animal or magical beast within 10 miles. Yep, that means the PCs actually get this artefact [!!! At 2nd to 4th level!!!] in the adventure. Oh, and no hard rules for the will-save are given (or any negative side-effects for owning the artefact), rendering it hard to judge/use. But back to the plan: The green hag has this extremely powerful artifact and uses it to force the animals to drink from the poison lake that can poison almost everything. Ok.
No reason is given for the lake to be poisonous and no stats are given for the undiluted poison that PCs almost definitely will bottle in large quantities. The diluted version of the poison is ridiculously weak for the levels, by the way. Why does the hag use the orb to poison the animals? Grab your seats: Because mages draw power from the land and even the animals. Mages. You know. Wizards & Sorcerors. Come again? This makes no sense. If they went after druids, I’d be fine with the approach, but against arcane casters? Where does this assumption come from? As far as I’m concerned and after re-reading the PFRPG core rules, that’s not how arcane magic works. Even better: The orb can geas animals and magical beasts at a rate of one per hour. Why don’t they gather an army and attack en masse? Or send individual, good magical beasts like the unicorn out there to e.g. kill paladins etc.? That would, at least in my opinion, make for a MUCH more interesting adventure that would also pose moral conundrums: Do the PCs attack the unicorns/blink dogs/etc. or try to capture them?
Are the attacked persons perhaps corrupt? Have I mentioned the arcane library and the items the PCs are supposed to get in the end IN ADDITION to an effin’ ARTIFACT that enables them to control an UNLIMITED AMOUNT of magical beasts? Why is there no information for the hag to use the artefact against animal companions? Why is there no information for an alarm in the tower and a coordinated defense by the inhabitants? On another note: There are no stat-blocks, no ToC and no bookmarks in this book, making it harder to use than it ought to be.
Editing is mediocre, I noticed several punctuation errors and 2 grammatical constructions that felt strange to me. Layout is beautiful and formatting is also nice. The b/w-artworks rock and I didn’t expect to get that many at this price-point. And yes, I can hear you with regards to the very low price. The price, though, does not change the fact that I can improvise better adventures than that on the fly, that there are several GLARING logic bugs in the villain’s plans and that the potential loot is FAR too powerful at this level. While the production values are ok, especially for this low price, I’ll just have to warn you that content-wise there is not much going for this adventure: It’s railroady to the extreme, makes you look for the stats and is thus not easy on the DM and feels just BAD. Basic assumptions of the plot don’t match the rules and I’ll direct you to the VASTLY superior “Haunting of Soldragon Academy” – it’s a bit more expensive, but there you get one extremely well-crafted adventure. “A Trail of Poison”, though…not so. My final verdict, in spite of the very low price, will be 1.5 stars, rounded down to 1.
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