Echoes From Fomalhaut #9 – Beyond the Gates of Sorrow

By Gabor Lux
First Hungarian d20 Society
Levels 2-4 & Level 1

Beyond the Gates of Sorrow: Shipwrecked on a northern archipelago seemingly devoid of habitation, you must explore your surroundings and find a way off these rocks… and could there be some profit in it as well? Wilderness and mini-dungeon module for 2nd to 4th level characters, 19+18 keyed locations.

The Vaults of Volokarnos: Orcs have been spotted near an ancient burial complex housing the resting places of old patrician families, and a famous warlord. The masters of the nearby town want the orcs gone… and are willing to overlook a bit of discrete grave-robbing on the side. A B/X dungeon for 1st level characters, 52 keyed areas.

This sixty page zine contains a number of articles as well as a small wilderness crawl with dungeon, and a larger stand-alone separate adventure featuring a dungeon with 52 encounters. A magnificent tribute to the older days of gaming and harkens back to the finer Judges Guild products. Terse, interactive, and building an evocative vibe by leaving room for mystery. A delight!

There are more good adventures than you will find on tenfootpole. I’m always chasing the next thing, the next designer popping up that is tilting against my expectations of BAD. This means that certain designers don’t get as much coverage as they should. They get labeled “Not A Fucking Idiot” and, mentally, I know that whatever they are releasing is good. Do you really need me to tell you that the next Dungeon Age adventure is going to be a good one? (Or, to tell you Thracia is good, for that matter?) And you know who also falls in to that category? Gabor Lux. Gabor Lux writes good adventures. And, thus, he doesn’t get as many reviews as he should. I should do something about that, but, also, I’m an ass. So who knows if I’ll follow through with my vow to review more of the good designers. Apathy is a powerful force.

And, let’s talk about that certain OD&D/BX style that I love so much. You can see it, full on, in Fight On! magazine. A certain non-standard way of running the game and in describing things. It’s not de rigueur D&D. It feels like The Old World, full of mystery and wonder and things yet to be discovered. A little bit of the Judges Guild vibe. A little bit of Arduin (is there a higher compliment in D&D?) Not the gonzo, but the feeling of mystery. And Melan brings that in full force in his Echoes of Fomalhaut zine. 

This is issue number nine and most fall in to the pattern. A few articles, tables and such about a game world that can rival ANY of the best settings. That feeling of mystery that abounds, a yearning to know more. This is a game world and you want to know more. And, then, there are usually a couple of adventuring sites. In this issue it is a wilderness hex crawl on a small chain of islands and a classic dungeon with undead, a temple, and orcs.

The wilderness crawl is on a small chain of rocky islands with almost no vegetation … or occupants. Oriented towards a shipwreck, it contains plenty for a party to salvage to find their way home again. Or, you can make friends with the HUGE giant who can wade through the sea. There’s a classic for you! The writing here, as usual, is terse. A little longer than say Xyntillan and matching more of a hex crawl style from Wilderlands, it contains locations and/or situations to stumble across. Resources, some loot, some things to get in to trouble with. And it’s got a barren feel, just like the island, but I mean that in a good way. Lonely. No real wanderers, the party makes out for landmarks and such, gathering resources and testing their luck. Flotsam in the distance … will you investigate for resources? A sad singing heard from the direction of an island … with the wind blowing through the hollowed-ut statue of a woman wearing a toga. Replete with gemstone for eyes … AND EYE RAYS! I fucking love eye rays! So, anyway, a little wandering around, doing the hex crawl thing but without hexes, and small twenty room keep to explore with an unusual vertical-oriented map that’s fun to see. A great “you were shipwrecked, now what?” adventure.

The second adventure is more traditional. A fifty or so room dungeon with some orcs in it, a cult, undead, etc. Great interactivity, up to including fonts and pools. Crypts and orcs with an order or battle. Short and terse little descriptions that contain a wealth of information, just enough to run the encounter and get the DMs juices going. Seriously, dude should write an article on how to write one of these encounters. There’s this non-standard thing goin on in it (and on the islands) that subverts things. A harpy? No, a statue. An undead? No, a couple of insect swarm or two inside of it. Doors to force. Pillars to move. Things that do things elsewhere. A great map supporting. This is the kind of old school adventure you want when you buy a product. 

My only criticism is the fucking magic items. While the +1 shields fit in well to their environment, when found, I’d prefer something a bit more. Unusual, a bit more description, something. I’d love the magic items to match the vibe of the rest of the adventure.

Buying all of the Echoes would result in a nice little library of a game world to rival Arduin, Tekumel, or any of the other better entries in the game world arena … and leave FOrgotten Realms and Greyhawk in the dusts of time.

This is $6.50 at DriveThru. The preview is ten pages and you get to see a decent amount of that island crawl. Good stuff!

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30 Responses to Echoes From Fomalhaut #9 – Beyond the Gates of Sorrow

  1. Shuffling Wombat says:

    Delighted to read a review clearly written with a smile on your face. You will have a look at Peril in the olden Wood (I’d be interested in your views concerning layout, Malrex has done a great job in my opinion) and Dwarrowdeep, won’t you?
    I think Vaults of Volokarnos deserves inclusion in lists of introductory adventure masterpieces. There is a sensible reason why the authorities are turning a blind eye to what is essentially grave-robbing, also small bands of mercenaries (that is adventuring parties) are OK, bigger forces that could challenge the powers that be are not. And there are the encounters that reward scouting and thinking, e.g. how can we deal with a substantial force of orcs, make use of choke points, flaming oil, etc.

  2. Q says:

    I know I’ve been pushing the need for more higher level adventures, but the ones in this zine were pretty darn good despite the disappointing return to low levels after the prior zines had generally been trending up in level range. Gabor really began hitting his stride with issue #6 for me, and I’ve enjoyed every issue since.

    • Shahar Halevy says:

      You’re going to LOVE issue 10. I’m about to finish reading it (I actually have the physical copies of Gabor’s works, the digital versions usually come out a few months later) and the City of Vultures locales are both lethal and inspiring. Especially an illusionist’s house which would be perfect for a mid-level heist or assassination quest.
      Also I enjoy how the CoV material comes together, making it ever more likely that I’ll run a campaign there full of conspiracy and betrayal.

  3. Q says:

    Awesome, looking forward to it! I may just have to break down and order print copies of 6-10.

  4. I use all the City of Vultures in my home city game, and it works really well. My players are totally scared of the undercity!

  5. Anonymous says:

    “My only criticism is the fucking magic items. While the +1 shields fit in well to their environment, when found, I’d prefer something a bit more. Unusual, a bit more description, something. I’d love the magic items to match the vibe of the rest of the adventure.“

    Good on Gabor for ignoring some of your more useless review take puffery.

    • Anonymous says:

      Agreed. Bryce’s obsession with new magic items is certainly the part of his reviews that I ignore. He pays attention to new magic items and new monsters, but I’ve never seen him mention anything about new spells, which is actually something just as important to me with regards to new material.

      • OSR Fundamentalist says:

        Bryce’s biggest hang-ups are
        >book magic items
        >new magic items that are “too rules-focused”
        >use of the fantastic in utilitarian contexts (i.e. green slime as waste disposal) or “magical ren-faire” as he calls it
        >explaining powers/working within rules instead of MAGIC AIN’T GOTTA EXPLAIN SHIT (red dragon with ring of invisibility vs red dragon who just turns invisible)
        Once you know what gets him worked and seething you can get more mileage out of his reviews.

  6. Anonymous says:

    We just need a comprehensive Just Buy These Already list of authors

    Kelsey Dionne
    Gabor Lux
    Dungeon Age

  7. Anonymous says:

    Seriously, dude should write an article on how to write one of these encounters.

  8. Tower Kreeper says:

    Its mentioned it the forums but I’m going to repost a link here

  9. 3llense'g says:

    While I haven’t put this theory into practice yet, I feel like this issue has everything you need to start a game of D&D: a small city, a detailed dungeon, a wilderness locale and beyond that a bunch of island kingdoms, loosely described. If the former were more closely related to the latter, it would be perfect, but fixing that shouldn’t be too hard or a budding DM.

  10. Arthur says:

    Delighted to see Echoes From Fomalhaut finally reviewed again! I personally feel that it is an outstanding zine and would completely agree with Bryce’s high praise!

  11. Melan says:

    Much appreciated! A few comments:

    1) Review coverage: I appreciate the ones I get. If Bryce thinks my stuff is a safe bet, I have to note I also publish other people on some occasions – and I am sure, for instance, that the author of Weird Fates would appreciate some critical analysis of his book (especially since he is working on vol. 2).

    2) Vaults of Volokarnos was originally written as an intro adventure for Casemates & Companies, a Hungarian B/X -based system. This is why it sticks to stock creatures and magic items – but also why it is not the kind of anemic, railroady twelve-room dungeon beginner scenarios have declined into. It tries to showcase the idea of dungeons as mysterious, expansive, and always a bit more than you can realistically handle. The idea was to write something that’s an experience, not a dreadful feature-poor tutorial level.

    3) Stock vs. unique magic items: one needs some from the former to appreciate the latter, I think – just like truly fantastic fantasy needs the mundane reality (of a world with wizards and orcs, anyway) as a contrast to work properly. I don’t think any of my active players would balk at a simple shield +1. Those prizes are usually hard earned!

    4) High-level materials: this is always constrained by what we actually play, and while every campaign starts with low-level adventures, not all of them reach level 9+ (our Erillion campaign ended with the highest-level characters at 9th). A lot of the adventures for this range are fairly particular to the specific campaign, and may not be ideal for zine treatment. However, there will be more high-level stuff, particularly from the City of Vultures (the current party there is starting to reach the nastier parts), and slowly from the Twelve Kingdoms as well.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Responding to Melan’s #1 above – Yes! Please review Weird Fates. Love to know what Bryce thinks of it

    Responding to # 3 above – Completely agree with regards to mundane vs unique magic items. A mix of both is great.

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