The Lord Admiral of a local seaport town has disappeared, and now the flaming footprints of a long-dead pirate known as Firebeard have started reappearing in the streets of the town. The party is sent to an abandoned pirate-lair on a distant island to investigate the return of Firebeard and the missing Lord Admiral.
Thus begins the terse introduction of AA5. This background introduction is two short paragraphs long and is all there is is prior to a description of the island lair. Now, I’m a man that prefers a terse description, so I didn’t have any problem at all with this. It was very refreshing to not have to read a three page primer of evil lord Douche-bag, featuring what he had for dinner and his personal ‘evacuation’ schedule. Short, sweet and to the point. I can fill in the details with something from my own mind on the fly.
The module is presented as a kind of Isle of Dread style island adventure with four short mini-dungeons. The overland portion on the island is not too long, the island is only about 10 miles in diameter. There are day and night wandering monster charts presented. They are heavy on the vermin, which I prefer, and have a couple of ‘special events’ located on them as well. These special events are very cool little set pieces, and quite evocative and interesting. One involves the site of an age-old massacre (Dead Marshes anyone?) and another an interesting little environmental hazard with a couple of undead crocs thrown in for good measure. Almost all of the monsters are given a little note on their motivation or what they are doing out, and not all of them have to end with the PC’s hacking the encounter to pieces. I liked the wandering table quite a bit, although I was a little sad to see native goblins thrown in. I like my humanoids Human and my undead with a purpose, your milage may vary.
There are three little mini-dungeons on the island, all linked together. The first is the old pirate caverns. The map for this has a few interesting features, like the dock and the tide lines, but it is essentially a very small branching map with a couple of alternate paths; not quite a looping map. There are about eleven keyed encounters, and the caverns are full of vermin and a couple of undead, the result of the town wiping out the pirates long ago. There are a few tricks and traps in this section, most of which center on the pirates trapping some kind of chest to catch/kill looters. They fit in with the theme of this section and are nice little details. On an academic level it’s hard for to criticize, however I’ve just about had it with pirate lairs, so it left me a little flat. It is probably a very good example though of what would happen if the citizenry of Saltmarsh wiped out their smuggler problem in a more organized fashion.
The second little dungeon is a portion of a gnome compound and is linked to the pirate caverns via a tunnel. It has eleven keyed encounters in a short little branching map. I found this section a little more interesting than the last. It has vermin in it and a couple of undead, just like the last section did. It does have more of a weird fantasy element to it. There’s an erie poltergeist, a crawling hand in a jar that could end up being a familiar (Cool!), and a casket to be looted while the final scene from Indiana Jones plays out. These are all very cool little details and encounters which add a lot of atmosphere. There’s also the remains, sometimes literally, of a previous adventuring party that came in through the pirate lair to explore. They’ve come upon hard times though, with a few dead and few captured by beasties To Serve Man. This is a nice little element that many products could do more with: what actually has happened to all of those other groups that went down down to goblin town? Seeing their remains scattered about tells a little story and gives the dungeons that lived-in feel that players and DM’s love.
Linked to the gnome gncompond is the lair of the Wax Wizard. There are eight keyed encounters here on a small little branching map. It’s essentially the home and lab of the Wax Wizard. Unfortunately he’s run in to some trouble lately, as wizards in lair modules are wont to do. He specializes in wax creations and one of his creations has run amok and developed an answer to the ‘Am I butterfly or a man?’ question. It’s run the wizard out and taken over. This section has two or three wax golem/construct type encounters as well as a couple of vermin encounters. There’s a trap or two, one of which can be looted for it’s ammunition, which is a nice touch of realism. Notes found in this section lead the party to a lizard man encampment where the wizard can be found. It seems they have a taste for human flesh as well, and are fattening up the wizard for a feast. Defeating the lizard men and freeing the wizard could earn the party a new wax construct buddy, if they return the wizards spell book to him … which would NOT be a given if I was playing, it has 5th level spells in it! It also turns out that the wizard has the pirates old flaming boots, which is where the the footprints in town are coming from.
There are several new monsters presented, two of the wax construct variety and two of a humanoid abomination variety. There are also several new magic items. Sling stones that turn in to boulders, rings of exploration, lesser swords of sharpness, and a ships figurehead are all interesting new treasures. I prefer my items a little more weird (like that hand familiar!) and a little more unique in description, however I do appreciate the attempt made to introduce new items. The module has quite a few book items as well; ring of regeneration, wands, and so on. Overall, it feels like a series of episodic dungeons with some tenuous ties. It’s seems to _almost_ be touching on some weird fantasy elements in places but never quite makes it over the edge in to the strange & unknown that I prefer.
This is available on DriveThru.