By Thilo Graf
This pdf is 22 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC/editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving 18 pages of content.
Alvena Publishing dares to walk a different path in PFRPG-pdf publishing by flat-out stating that there are no artworks and maps in this book – an interesting take, as for e.g. some CoC-adventures the approach worked all too well – I can name at least 3 from the top of my hat that rock. The layout is also different, featuring text being presented in the 3-column-standard, though not in the horizontal standard you might know from e.g. SGG or ZSP, but in vertical orientation.
This being an adventure, the review contains SPOILERS, you’ve been warned.
The adventure per se has a basic and simplistic plot-line: In a town, there’s an abandoned church, and some children have gone missing in a truth-and-dare at the now-defunct place of worship. The adventurers are to go and rescue them and annihilate any evil that might have taken hold of the place. After a page of introduction, we get 3 suggestions for general hooks which focus on the very basic ideas of good approach, mercenary approach and personal involvement. Thistle is detailed only in the most bare-bone form, providing names for 5 establishments and 4 characters. Three of these characters belong to the guard and one is the travelling alchemist providing a side-quest of picking rare flowers. More on that later. After arriving in Thistle, the players can encounter a grief-stricken, drunk father who wants to die by the PC’s blades due to his girl being among the missing children, which I considered a bit rash, but oh well. Next up on the encounters in the town, the PCs can save a damsel in distress from some cowardly thugs. In any case, after the 2 encounters, the chief of the guards will recruit the PCs to check out the churchyard, where they’ll fight orc-zombies, an undead spider swarm, more orc-zombies and finally a ghoul cleric. After vanquishing the final foe, the PCs will save the children and return from the abandoned church as heroes.
Sounds like an easy to pull off dungeon romp, doesn’t it? I’ll come out and be straight with you – this adventure makes a LOT of mistakes.
The two encounters in the town are the ultimate clichés of random encounters in any 1st-level adventure. While this would not be bad per se, there is no twist to the encounters. The town itself is not situated in any kind of culture/climate and the lack of a map becomes readily apparent: The town (and I’ll continue calling it “town” – it’s that generic) is supposed to be nestled next to a hill, which is supposedly used for mining, with the church being atop said hill. How do the business and the abandoned place of worship interact? This is but one example of what is the main problem of this book – the writing. Without maps and artworks, the adventure’s mood and means to convey any kind of excitement are limited to the quality of the writing. And boy, does it fall short in this quintessential discipline. Want some examples? A moderate one from the flavor-text: “A lone church, made of stone, surrounded by a graveyard, surrounded by an iron fence that remains standing, though covered in rust.” (pg.7, column 1) That’s the sentence, I didn’t cut or add anything. “Surrounded” is used twice in the same sentence, no height is given for the fence. And there is no verb. A “From the mist emerges…” or similar part is missing. On the same page, afore-mentioned magical plants (fog-lilies) for the side-quest of the alchemist are introduced. Sadly without providing any rules. The text states that the flowers work with fog-and cloud spells and alchemist items, that they can improve caster-level or DCs, but not by how much. A wasted chance for a nice piece of crunch. The only other information we get on the church is “This old church is built using an old style that is rarely used anymore.” Ok. Which style? To which kind of god was this place once devoted? Should we assume a Judeo-Christian default? Why am I asking this? Well, there’s a stone (900 GP worth, btw.) that can create up to 20 gallons of water per minute in the church. Decanter of endless water, anyone? I don’t like the item due to creating water without a limit for 900 GP (somebody tell those nomads in the desert), but oh well. The church is flooded and the swarm is hidden in the water, seeking to attack the PCs from beneath the water. I get that. What I don’t get is, why the swarm is not hindered by walking under the water (no swim speed) and why the cellar/catacomb is not flooded. Wait, what? Yep, after disposing of the submerged swarm, the PCs open the door to the cellar and venture down. Without mentioning any moisture on part of the stairs or how the door is elated, on higher ground, whatever. What about said mine? Wouldn’t it have experienced some problems due to the seeping moisture? Is it here or somewhere completely different? I DON’T KNOW!
“But wait”, Endzeitgeist, you say “Aren’t you terribly nit-picky here?”
No, I’m not. This is a potential suspension-of-disbelief-breaker. And even if given the benefit of the doubt, the fact remains that the church is so rudimentary in its depiction, so amorphous, that I can’t friggin’ tell why the cellar is not swamped. The same holds true for the next encounter – while finally some measurements are given for the narrow stairs down to the church cellar, no rules are given are mentioned for the PCs to be penalized by the cramped encounter apart from mentioning their enemies’ reach. The final encounter has no description of the cellar, more or less leading to guess-work on part of the DM. How far away is the ghoul? Could he use perception to detect the PCs? What if they’ve been silent? Can he reach his hostages to try to escape while threatening to kill them? Once again, even after reading the section for the oomph-teenth time, I can’t tell. On the plus-side, the treasure is detailed and goes beyond “You find X gold”.
3 pages are devoted to the 4 NPCs, 2 of which don’t really feature in the adventure, and 3 pages are devoted to pregens. One of the pregen-statblocks is divided between two pages, effectively limiting you to either cut the pages up or, even better, write the stats into separate char-sheets. Why? The pregens are also presented in a rather cluttered 3-column-standard, limiting the “go-and-play”-aspect of the module.
Oh boy, that’s not everything.
The 3-column layout is cluttered and hard to read, the pdf has colored background making it unfriendly on the printer. Worst of all, the revision to stat-blocks in PFRPG, clearly distinguishing between offense, defense, etc.-sections has not been implemented – instead we get the stats cluttered into the three-column format, making them rather unfriendly to use. The adventure is generic to the extreme, far beyond being easy to insert.
Raging Swan Press has adventures that are easy to insert and still feel unique.
This adventure is easy to insert due to offering NO PRECISE INFORMATION ON JUST ABOUT ANYTHING. The adventure has hyperlinks tied to the PF SRD, granted, but I sincerely doubt the utility of the 27 ones. For example, “Diplomacy” is linked to, as is “Paralysis”, though the latter has its stats right after the special quality, but e.g. not the spells – this idea has simply not been implemented to its logical conclusion, thus severely limiting its appeal.
Don’t get me started on editing either. I didn’t notice A SINGLE column without a mistake, totaling at least 3 errors PER PAGE. And that is not counting awkward wordings, redundant information etc. You name it, it’s there: Missing letters (e.g. page 4, middle column, fluff-text – “f” should read “of”), awkward homophone errors like “strait-forward”[sic! – no, straiGHt-forward does not have anything to do with the Dire Straits] (page , column2) , incorrect prepositions and tense-errors “[…] statue of a great angel, whose face has worn away from by time and weather[…]” (page 7, column 1), superfluous and missing “that”s, plain missing information like in the fog-lilies example mentioned earlier in my review.
Environmental hazards are used to make the battles more interesting, but their consequences have not been thought out and their implementation, again, is lacking. You name the error, I’ll show you where to find it in this book. The fact that one of the pregens has been split over two pages bugs me, the fact that the formatting of either pregens or monsters does not adhere to PFRPG standards. It is suggested in the adventure to hand out meta-game information like the respective monster’s BAB to players for succeeded skill-checks, which I’ll never do. And the whole adventure is just an amorphous, incoherent blob. The story is weak, but there is also no fun dungeon to go through. This adventure has NOTHING but frustration to offer, at least it did for me. I’ve read plenty of FREE adventures (Necromancers of the Northwest’s “Song of Fodin” for example) that are VASTLY superior to this one. Hell, the exact same plot-line has been done in “Crown of the Kobold King”, and the Paizo adventure is superior in EACH AND EVERY way. This adventure is wholly reliant on the quality of its writing and utterly, completely, devastatingly, falls short on that regard. I read this adventure about 20 times, trying desperately to find something, anything on par with the time, something I liked and found diddly-squat. Most 1st-edition adventures provide a hell of a lot more information and feel more organic and less clichéd than this.
Even without the horrendous amount of editing mistakes, I’d rate this 1 star – it falls as short as one can fall of the premise of providing an entertaining, classic dungeon-crawl. I go so far as to even state that this one is FAR worse than the AD&D starter’s kit adventures released in Germany. If that had been the first adventure I ever read, I would have quit rpgs immediately and started looking for another hobby. This adventure has the dubious honor of being the WORST PFRPG-adventure I’ve ever read. There are ONLY superior, and often VASTLY superior modules out there. Go buy one of them.
Just please, not this one.
It also ranks among the worst RPG-books I’ve ever read.
In fact, I’d give it 0 stars if I could – it’s significantly worse than any other PFRPG-books apart from the A.G.E.S.-gaming-crap I’ve reviewed so far and I hereby apologize to the authors of all 1-star-reviews I’ve writing on this platform – rest assured, your pdfs EARNED at least that one star.
My final verdict will thus be 0 stars, unfortunately depicted as one star it doesn’t deserve.
Oh, and while I’m at it: I’m calling corporate hack/personal favor on Mitchell Wageler’s review on Paizo. No one in their right mind, especially if one is so critical as the review professes to be, can give this adventure 4.5 stars.