by Peter Spahn
for Small Niche Games
This should be a mostly fine & serviceable adventure, but something feels wrong about it. I’m not sure I can articulate what it is. The adventure is based around the the recovery of an ancient artifact stolen from and of interest to dragons. It has many schedule events and a kind of flowchart of encounters and actions … all of this is great when taken individually, but I’m left with a somewhat *blah* feeling at the end. I don’t know why.
The hook here is pretty nice. The players see two dragons, a big black and an ever bigger red, fighting in the sky. The black looses to a gush a flame and raking claws and goes plunging to earth nearby, while the red flies off. No self-respecting player is going to let that one pass by, so it’s expected that the party will go try and find the blacks body. Or, maybe they continue on their way. If if you try and find the blacks body then turn to section INTO THE HILLS. If you continue on your way then turn to section TRADER VIC. Each of those sections will have some general thoughts on what can happen next. For example, you find the body but it’s covered in stirge for the next 12 hours. Or, you meet a trader who offers you a job slaughtering the carcass. These are all written in such a way that the party is not railroaded. If the party attacks the red at the temple then it will do X, otherwise the dragon will leave after Y turns and then Z will happen. Not happen TO the party, but rather what changes in the environment if the party takes a certain action. This is a great way to run things in an event based module. The creatures are reacting to the presence, or lack thereof, of the the party rather than the party being forced to go a certain way or have a certain encounter. It changes things from a railroad to an almost social environment where the creatures have their own motivations and goals and are working towards their own ends. This is turn adds a real authenticity to the game, a sense that the parties actions, or inactions, are having a real impact on the local environment and/or situation. And that is a very good thing indeed.
There’s a dungeon, the old black dragons lair. It’s small, 15 rooms, mostly symmetrical, which I hate, and themed around the four elements, which I loathe. It’s actually pretty decent though. There are a lot of encounters that are well put together. Smart players will notice the signs of the traps and smarter players will not have to fight too many creatures at all. The core mechanic of the dungeon is that the red is bullying a group of frogmen in to exploring it for him, and the hapless guys bodies are common in rooms where danger lurks. Combined with elementals who want to go home, the party could have a pretty unusual time inside.
This is combined with a great wandering monster table for the swamps which includes a whole lot of great encounters. Not just the usual ‘you get attacked by xx fugoogoogods” but rather more interesting encounters that include environment (a deep pool with leeches), unusual creatures (whoops! that interesting rubble was a giant slug), or just plain bad luck (that rotten tree stump Bob just stepped on had a nest of water moccasins in it.) The adventure has a nice climax when the party find the gem, and then a THIRD ACT when an evil NPC party shows up. Woo Hoo! I love evil NPC parties! Even better, they are in the employ of the red! It’s a nice touch. All of the individuals and many of the monster groups have a separate section in the back that descries their personalities, motivations, and goals, allowing the DM to run things better better when the party takes things of the rails.
I’m not really sure why I’m turned off of this adventure so much. It may be the symmetrical dungeon, or the four elements, or the inclusion of a gold dragon NPC as a plot hook of last resort … maybe my inner child has been so badly injured by those things that I can’t help but flinch when I see them. Anyway, this is a decent adventure that hits the major highlights of OSR play. I’mjust not … excited? about it, personally. I may be wrong.
This is available on DriveThru.