By Thilo Graf
This module is 48 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC (& recommended reading for those not familiar with old-school style gaming) and 1 page SRD, leaving us with a total of 44 pages of content, so let’s take a look at the first of AdventureaWeek.com‘s C-series of classic modules in the spirit of old-school gaming!
This being an adventure review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion. All right, still here? Let’s take a look! Intended for levels 3-5, the premise of the module is rather simple: A wealthy merchant once named Alagoran sought a way to keep his belongings safe after a burglary and thus invested his fortune in a magnificent gem. Edged further on by his paranoia, he had a deadly complex crafted to keep both him and his prized possession safe. Alagoran has vanished. He stopped showing up for rations and, while some time has passed, none have yet returned or claimed the prize of the magnificent gem. Enter the PCs, who should then feel like a certain famous barbarian who was known to have pulled off some deadly heists in his youth. Props if you got that reference.
So yeah, via 4 different, albeit simple sample hooks the PCs are recruited to test their mettle against the dungeon paranoid Alagoran has crafted – but can they prevail? From the very start, a sense of puzzles and antiquity sweeps the PCs, as they get a chance to avoid a fight with a powerful undead guardian by mentioning a correct name and mundane, yet still sickening mildew, green slime and magic mouths that taunt them. Oh, have I mentioned the traps and the twisted ways in which they can actually be bypassed? Pit traps and acid arrows are the least of the PC’s worries if they don’t take care – especially if they activate a certain magical door and get hit by a wave of energy that may not only pummel them into a pit, it may also eliminate ALL 1-use magic items and activate those that can be activated! Rod of fireball? BOOM. Potions and scrolls? Ruined! OUCH! PCs hit by this one will complain, but honestly – it can be avoided, it’s iconic and it FEELS just right…so kudos for including this rather nasty effect! Speaking of nasty: Even before they have went to the inner rooms of the dungeon, the PCs can find a mushroom forest including ogres, unhealthy puffball spores and be infected with dysentery (Yes, not filth fever or slimy doom. Seriously. I like it when not every damn dirty place features the same two standard diseases everyone seems to use…) even before they have to pass a gauntlet-style corridor full of magic-imbued arrow traps. Also nice: a trolley-based refuse-system leading to an otyugh’s nice home…
Where the module starts to become interesting is with a circular room, which can be considered a many-phased, complex trap that has no easy way to solve and cannot be simply deactivated by a successful disable device roll – instead, the PCs will have to brave the danger with brawns and use their brains to pass the trap – have I mentioned that the trap features rancid boar’s blood, acid, the chance to drown and a pack of starving ghouls? Speaking of acid: Hanging, tilting platforms over a sea of acid can also be found herein – guarding a nice bluff of a fake treasure room that has the iconic three chests, of which, of course, all are the wrong ones. The dungeon also features yet another false gem guarded by an Indy trap as well as an alternate entrance, an owlbear, an option to parlay with a tribe of orcs, a carrion crawler and undead ignited by a gas leak that may blow the PCs to smithereens. There is also a river of lava including… *drums* a dead magic zone! Yes! We have not nearly enough of those in most current modules and I’m not ironic there – magic should never be too predictable and challenges like this, where magical prowess alone does not suffice, add to this sentiment. Before the end of the dungeon, though, we have yet more lava, animated ropes (trip, trip, trip the adventurers into the river of lava…), superheated, unhealthy, sulfurous air and then, the final room, in which the PCs have one more chance to use their wits – if they fail, they will have to contend with a rather lethal array of traps and might even be petrified (though that is reversible by concluding the module). If they by now have a good grasp of Alagoran’s personality, they might be able to avoid these traps and even find the true, fabled gem – provided they can defeat its final guardian.
The module closes with stats in both 3.5 and PFRPG, which include 4 ready-to go replacement PC-stats should any perish in the module as well as a player-friendly key AND trap/secret-door less version of the map -Bravo!
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly white background and is otherwise the standard 2-column standard we’ve come to expect from AaW, including colour-coded boxes for rules, read-aloud text etc. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks and is scheduled to get herolab files, but at the writing of this review, these have not yet been added. The cartography of the dungeon in full colour is beautiful as I’ve come to expect from AaW-publications and the player-friendly map sans traps and helps, secret doors and keys is awesome to have and should be industry standard.
I honestly didn’t expect much from this module, seeing how often “old-school” is used as a synonym for “nothing new/creative” here – that’s not the case here. Yes, the story is simplistic, there is not a grand mini-game or some other twist – but know what? The design-philosophy, much like in the excellent modules by Frog God Games oozes this sense of antiquity, of looming danger and death, of unpredictability and the NEED, not the option, to use your brain in order to survive. This is not dungeoneering for people who cry when their character dies. This a module that oozes old-school flair, that evokes a sense of accomplishment when completed and, while it is a harsh mistress, remains a fair sojourn – this is no meat-grinder, it is a hard, challenging module. Not Rappan Athuk-level hard, mind you, but hard. And boy do I like it for that – the use of hazards, traps (that are not disabled via 1 roll) and enemies make this not only a blast from the past that evokes nostalgia via its themes and design, it also makes this module a stellar first offering for the C-series. I’m completely and fully recommending this very cheap module and look forward to seeing how the rest of the C-line will hold up to my scrutiny. If what I’ve written here even remotely intrigues you and if you’re looking for a well-written dungeon-exploration – here you go. My final verdict? 5 stars, endzeitgeist seal of approval.
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