By Thilo Graf
This adventure is 28 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages SRD and 1 page advertisement, leaving 23 pages of content for the latest adventure by Morten Braten, the mastermind behind the modern Sword & Sorcery classic Ancient Kingdoms: Mesopotamia. It is also his first foray into PFRPG-rules to my knowledge and the first sign of life from Xoth Publishing since the extremely cheap 200-page anthology "The Spider God’s Bride", which I immensely enjoyed.
This adventure for the Sword & Sorcery genre and character lvl 2-3, while utilizing the PFRPG-rules, uses some default assumptions that are different from you standard fantasy fare, as befitting of the genre. First of all, 6 cultural archetypes for humans are presented in the first appendix. Due to a lack of humanoids like elves and dwarves in Sword & Sorcery literature, the versatility that is the spice of roleplaying comes from choosing cultural archetypes with their own distinctive attribute modifiers, special abilities etc. Decadent characters, for example, get bonuses on social skills, Cha as well as a penalty to their will saves to represent their unwholesome lifestyle. Personally, I LOVE this approach, as it makes the different cultures and humans feel more versatile.
Another problem in Sword & Sorcery is that magic is different from the basic PFRPG-assumption – you seldom see sorcerers fling artillery spells around or crushing whole legions of foes. Indeed, while they might level whole cities with their rituals, they’ll have to sacrifice virgins, take exotic drugs etc. to do so and their spells will be dependent on the cult they adhere to. After all, in Sword & Sorcery, there s no distinction between arcane and divine magic. While the sorcerer-base-class from Spider God’s Bride is not updated to PFRPG herein (and does not feature in the adventure), the Cultist class is introduced over 2 pages in the appendix.
Essentially, the cultists is a variant of the oracle base-class that is well-designed. While not many sample cults are given, two do feature in this adventure and subsequently get their full stats. It is here I want to advise reader discretion – while the themes of the adventure are mature, they are not gratuitous and probably not meant for younger audiences. The themes of Sword & Sorcery often centre around religious depravity and the cult that features as a part of the PC’s opposition in this adventure has e.g. the initiation ritual of mating with a animal.
That being said, the World of Xoth blog as well as the "Spider God’s Bride"-anthology greatly enhance the flavour of this module, as they contain more information on the human ethnicities as well as the world per se and I’d highly recommend reading them prior to running this adventure.
All right, so far, so good, from here on we’ll jump into the action – Thus, the SPOILERS start to reign.
Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
Still here? All right!
The adventure kicks off by having the PCs rescue a bunch of handmaidens from a slaver who then proceed to guide them to the accursed city of Khadis. In the best of sandboxy styles, we are introduced to the city of Khadis, its palace, secret shrine etc. Essentially, the city once worshipped a dread, bloodthirsty hyena-cult that has recently been toppled and exchanged with a more benevolent religion. Unfortunately, the kind is more or less senile by now and his daughter has been acting strangely. This is due to said daughter being the returned princess who has been raised in the ways of the beast-gods, her sister and true heir to the throne being one of her captives. Unfortunately for her (or the PCs), said handmaidens rescued from the slavers were servants of the supplanted princess and thus will notice that something is amiss – which might have the PCs on lock-down in the palace.
The palace, the palace’s dungeon and the now desecrated sphinx in the city feature their own, hand-drawn maps and from the arrival in Khadis, the further development of the adventure is mostly up to you as a DM and your players – from cultist’s catacombs with stitched-together mummies, beast-men cultists, a palace that has the PCs on lockdown until they’re sacrificed to fuel the fake princess’ transformation into a beast woman, a ritual, court intrigue (finding out what is amiss with the princess) – just about anything is possible. While a sample outline is given, essentially it’s up to you and your players to decide how the events unfold against this backdrop of depravity, decadence and vile practices. While this approach means that you as a DM have a bit more work than usual, it also means that no two play-throughs are the same and that PCs tendency to do unforeseen things is accounted for by not having a set-in-stone plotline. While this is no "Go-Play"-module, it makes for an interesting sojourn to the primal world of Xoth that, once again, like its predecessor, necessitates PCs fighting smart.
The pdf also features 3 new templates, (all CR +1) – The embalmed creature, hybrid stitched mummy and Beast-man of Khadis templates, all of which are simple to use and neatly designed.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to the 2-column standard and features neat b/w-artwork borders as well as some nice b/w-artworks. The maps are hand-drawn and not too great, but they do serve their purpose. On a layout-side, the statblocks unfortunately are not broken up into offensive/defensive/etc. sections, making them a bit harder to read than necessary.
I really liked this adventure, being a sucker of Sword & Sorcery and Morten’s work. However, as a reviewer, I have to realize that this adventure has some problems: The statblocks not adhering to PFRPG-standard being one, the plethora of information you have to gather from the blog being another. While familiarity with the world of Xoth is not strictly necessary to run this adventure, a lot of the fluff and atmosphere might be lost without having read the campaign information from "Spider God’s Bride" and the blog. I really think that the general campaign setting information from said sources should be updated to PFRPG in order to ensure the usability of future adventures, as without prior knowledge and modifications on your part as the DM, some of the fluff and enjoyment might be lost to you, which is really a pity, as the adventure per se is dauntingly old-school and oozes Howard/Ashton-Smith-style. If you’re already familiar with the world of Xoth, this is an excellent purchase. If you’re not, though, the amount of work required to make this adventure work as intended might be a downer for you. My final verdict, having to take this into account, will thus be 3 stars and the definite recommendation for those of you willing to invest a bit of work and/or familiar with the World of Xoth. For those of you who want a plug-and-play module, steer clear.
Songs of the Beast Gods is available from: