Several things gelled for me right before GenCon this year. I suddenly realized what I had been searching for in adventure modules. “Excited about something RPG related” and “GenCon” mixed together meant that I went home with 83 new adventure modules. Of those, one matched closer to what I was looking for than the others. I found a lot of adventures that didn’t fit what I was looking for, and a couple of stand out modules. Initially I started up tenfootpole.org to list Megadungeons, the topic I was interested in. I stumbled across one of those stand out products early though, and felt I needed to bring it to the attention of others. Being hampered by a lack of reviews when I made my large purchase, I decided to review all the product I bought. An accident then deleted my list of megadungeons and now all I’m left with are the reviews. What follows is a summary of the better & interesting modules I found while doing my reviews. Oh, and there may be other good things from these folks that I’ve not seen yet. This isn’t the final word in what’s good, it’s just the opinions of one tool on the Internet of what he’s seen so far.
Best in Show
Anomalous Subsurface Environment is what I was looking for, and more so. A big ass map, gonzo elements, dripping with atmosphere and bizarro stuff everywhere. The campaign setting alone would probably make me drool, and I loathe campaign settings. Once the actual megadungeon is added then I’m in ecstasy. Lots of new creatures. Lots of things to poke, prod, and experiment with. Factions, vermin heavy, multi-path maps. This thing is great all around and ranks as one of the best ever. It’s hard to justify calling it a megadungeon with just one level (plus the gatehouse) … but the spirit is there even if the 3d element is not … yet.
Pacesetter Games & Simulations
There were two real stand outs for me that came from Pacesetter. The first is The Thing in the Valley. This is an excellent module all around, and in no way resembles a megadungeon. The various monsters and people all seem real and motivated by real things that I could relate to. There are a lot places in the valley to poke your nose in to and a lot of people and creatures in the valley to interact with, almost none of which have to lead to a straight up combat. The encounters with the undead, the focus of the module, are spartan and very well done. This isn’t a flashy or sexy module, there’s no Iuz or laser blasters or epic destinies. It’s very atmospheric in a very subtle and unusual way. I believe it’s one of the best modules I’ve ever seen and I suspect it fits in to that “run it over and over again” line that also houses the Moat House in Hommlet. It’s a keeper.
The second is Grave of the Green Flame. This is a solo module in Choose Your Own Adventure/Fighting Fantasy format, however I use it as a simple DM+party module. I run it as the DM for either my two kids, doubling the numbers in encounters, or for my now-wife as a one-on-one. It, plus Holmes, makes for an absolutely zero-barrier entry to playing pick-up D&D on the spur of the moment. Because of this I’ve run it more times than any other module, except maybe Keep or Steading, which were staples of my jr high/high school D&D group. Despite some editing issues it has done more to get me playing D&D more than any other product. I’ll be checking out more modules like this one.
Frog God Games
The standouts here were the Hex Crawl line, by John Stater, and the Jungle Ruins of Madaro-Shanti. Somehow, I went through 30+ years of D&D without ever seeing Thracia, Dark Tower, or Wilderlands. Being exposed to the Hex Crawl line mere days after seeing Wilderlands for the first time was a real eye opener. The whimsy in the hex crawls appeals to the side of me that is intrigued by Bakshi/Wizards and the Warlord comic with Wiz-World. There are hundreds of adventure seeds and opening any page results in being exposed to numerous fantastical elements. There are some map issues in the print versions, but this is a trivial complaint when compared to the work as a whole.
Madaro-Shanti, while having the worlds worst cover, is a solid swords & serpent-men type adventure. It’s mostly a smallish ruins crawl with an short overland element. There’s a lots of freaky stuff going on that adds a quite a bit to the atmosphere. Lots of vermin, lots of new creatures, and nice trap/hazard design fill out the good exploration elements. It’s a very solid adventure, which makes it far above average.
XRP – Advanced Adventures
After having reviewed #1 through #21 I can unfairly generalize about the line. If I were looking for an OSR tournament module I’d look here first. Some of the AA are are tournament modules, proper, and quite a few others would make good tournament modules. Joseph Browning’s Stonesky Delve makes a great spelunking/dungeon module, while his The Lost Keys of Solitude presents some decent ruins and a lot of factions to play with. My favorite in the series may be Andrew Hinds Barrow-Mound of Gravemoor. Fellowship started my love affair with barrows back when I was 10, so I may be predisposed, but this thing DRIPS with celtic/dark fairy tale atmosphere. There’s a strong weird fantasy element to it that I really enjoyed. The Curse of the Witch Head also strongly appealed to me, although less so than the others. I know people love the SInister Shroom, but I was exposed to it after ….
Wheel of Evil. It’s got a woodcut for a front cover and is about a cheese cave. For me this brought to mind the worst dreck of the d20 era. How wrong I was. Slimes, molds, mushrooms, and an absurd plan to take over the world, not to mention kobolds with heavy accents. There’s a very sly and subtle humor present but this is not a joke module. It’s a very solid OSR adventure module that hits most of the OSR themes. Thumbs up to the Monkeys!
Troll Lord – Castles & Crusades
I found a lot of the writing to be overly verbose and a bit bland. The exceptions may be the Mortality of Green. the world described in this product is one that is evocative of a dark fairy tale. Ogres pass for hum, goblins are sinister and not just fodder, and every thing drips with Dark Forest atmosphere. Layering on their campaign world just adds to the sense of depth and mystery. The Troll Lords don’t seem to be afraid of taking chances; there’s a wide variety of adventure types represented in their products. One of the more interesting is the ‘I’ line, I1, I2, and I3. These are all fairly low level (under 5) and involve some serious mass combat and some nice sandbox-type elements. The players are going to have a rough time and survivors will have some serious St Crispins day street cred. Another notable is The Slag Heap, a series of three failed villages which are, in reality, little more than bandit camps. I found the entire set up very interesting.