by Bill Silvey
Freely Distributed by The Delvers Dungeon
Beneath the shifting sands of the Sea of Dust lies a fabled artifact of immense power! Your party has been commissioned to find the storied Golden Sphere of Xan Yae and return it to the Emirates of the far west. But beware! Vile creatures seek to thwart you in your efforts, for they too seek the power that is rumored to be bestowed upon he who possess the ‘sphere!
This is a small dungeoncrawl through a ruined temple. It has some roots in a tournament module although no scoring is present, and thus it’s more of a “Just Survive” module. It’s a very linear dungeon, as would be implied from it’s tournament history.
These are such weird little modules. They seem to try and follow TSR trade dress and yet they are clearly missing something. Content, maybe? This one is fourteen pages long and yet only three pages the core adventure. This would be fine if the other pages contained setting information, or sandbox, or some other style of content. It would be really terrible if those three pages were surrounded by trade dress bullshit boilerplate. Front cover, back cover, 2 pages of “maps”, two pages of pre-gens, a page of new monsters and magic. That’s nine of fourteen already. The other five are background, notes, a page of wilderness encounters, and a page of other area encounters.
The background and notes sections are the usual tedious stuff “read the module completely” and “you should have a cleric and thief in the party” kind of boilerplate. The hook is lame also “The Sultan hires you go bring back an artifact.” Too short, no flavor, and too vanilla. Zzzz…. The adventure is set in the Forgotten City in Greyhawk and there’s a special wandering monster chart for that hex. The encounters are not that bad. They each have a little backstory that doesn’t take up too much space, just a sentence or two, and provides a great dash of flavor-text to liven things up. You could probably take any one of them and build a complete adventure around them. At a minimum they do a decent job of building up a good picture of the area in which the adventure takes place. It just seems so out of place for an adventure with only three pages of dungeon as the main event. It would be different if this were kind of “setting”, or laid out like one, but it’s clearly not meant to be. It’s laid out like a standard dungeoncrawl “and here’s the wandering monster table for the area outside of the dungeon.” That’s a huge missed opportunity because the mythology around the wanderers is really good. A Dune Stalker who’s feared by all the other occupants. A Sandman who’s the ghost of a long-dead Suel mage. A Gambado nest. These are all great little encounters. There’s an attempt at a Red Dragon encounter that is only a little more than a throw-away, as well as a culture of firenewts that’s also done poorly and deserves to be expanded upon. The area around the city could have been done really well and I wish it had been.
The temple/dungeon proper is little linear bit. At the start you can go right or left. Left is a puzzle that gets you to the artifact. But you can only solve the puzzles by going right and, essentially, killing everything in sight. The encounters are little more than some read-aloud and a combat. There’s an attempt at a trap or two as well as a couple of tricks, but they are strong misses. The trick that comes to mind is the bricked-over alcove with a statue to the temple goddess in it. If you unbrick it, and are good, a feeling of well-being come over you. That’s it. Making an offering? Great! No effect. Steal the offering you just left? CURSE! Players should be rewarded for interacting with the environment, not be bored by it. There’s an encounter with Monster Zombies that’s a good example of what’s wrong with the encounters in this adventure. It’s a paragraph or so long and, after two sentences of “empty room with bars” read aloud it tell you why there are monster zombies in the room and stats them. That’s it. No description of them, no interesting things to do or see or interact with. Just four monster zombies. See Monster. Kill Monster. Next Room. That’s the mentality here. And it SUX. When I’m looking at an adventure I’m looking for ideas and text that inspire me as a DM. I wan something to trigger my own imagination so I can build on it and make it my own.
The new monsters are just 3 and 4HD humanoids. Nothing special there. They have moderately interesting backstories, but the lack of special abilities makes them pretty boring in anything other than a “full replacement” campaign setting. The new magic item is the artifact. It’s interesting enough, all all artifacts should be.
This adventure is little more than going through the motions.