Vladicu the Sorceror is providing proxy access for another to post her thoughts on RPGNow. The true author of the extensive review that follows is Dark Mistress (necromancergames forums)
I am posting a review of this product up here and in the adventure section. Mostly because this section gets more traffic and I would like to draw people’s attention to this product.
Ok this is my very first adventure review. To be totally honest I am a bit unsure how to review an adventure with out spoiling too much, while still giving you enough information to purchase it if you want it. I hope I can hit that point. If you have any questions about the adventure I will be happy to try and answer your questions.
This product is 145 pages long. The cover, credits, ToC, OGL and back cover take up 5 pages. A note about art... there is almost no art at all. I believe there is only 3-4 art images in the whole book(not counting maps) so the bulk of this 145 pages is adventure text.
Introduction – (4 pages)
This section gives a history of the adventure. An adventure summery, 6 plot hooks to get characters involved and a section for GM advice. It also has a warning this is a lethal and dangerous adventure, with advice to be ready to replace characters etc.
A rough overview of the history. The City of Tsar was a city of worshipers of Orcus. Eventually good nations rose up and marched on the city to destroy it. It takes about that, what happened during the war and how things ended. Then a bit about why people are still in the area.
Chapter 1 – The Camp (14 pages)
This is a camp(really a town but it is called The Camp) of people living on the edges of the Desolation (which is the area around the City of Temples aka Tsar City.) This section has a full two page map of the camp and a map of the local Inn. It lists and details 15 different locations and talks about the NPC's in the city. Several of them are very interesting, some a bit amusing. All of them should provide interesting interaction for the PC's. At least one could be a replacement PC or Cohort. I am not sure Greg meant for this or not, but The Camp has a very Mos Eisley Cantina feel to the whole town. The population is VERY varied with a colorful feel. Almost like a old west town, most people are content to live their lives as long as they are left alone.
Chapter 2 – Events in the Camp (6 pages)
This section has 5 event based encounters. The first one automatically happens when the PC's first arrive. The rest happen either at certain times, or after the PC's do something etc. At least one of these event encounters is potentially very deadly, it could even maybe lead to a TPK if the PC's are careless and is very possible to lead to a PC death. Also the PC's have to take over a responsibility in the camp, if they choose not to. They are no longer welcome at The Camp till they agree(they can hire a local NPC to take care of it for them though). Some will hate this as it feels forced(you almost can't avoid it), while others will like it cause of the RPing aspect.
Chapter 3 – The Desolation (10 pages)
This section goes into more detail about the army of light and the war they waged against the city. It also breaks the Desolation up into 5 parts: The Ashen Waste, The Boiling Lands, The Chaos Rift, The Dead Fields, and The Crossroads. It has random encounter tables for each area and talks about what they look like and major features and such. The area as a whole is known as The Desolation, it covers 70 miles by 50 miles. The Crossroads deal with where the 4 roads meet and some stuff on the roads or at the city. The final section is about what lays beyond The Desolation. Just in case your players go off map so to speak.
Chapter 4 – The Ashen Waste (15 pages)
This section has 8 encounter locations, though not all of them result into fights. Included are 2 mini dungeons. One of the encounters can prove to be very hard if the PC's are not on their toes. There is also 2 NPC's that could in theory be replacement PC's or Cohorts if the GM wanted to use them that way.
Chapter 5 – The Boiling Lands (13 pages)
There is 6 encounter locations in this section, once more not all of them result in a fight. Included are 2 mini dungeons.
Chapter 6 – The Chaos Rift (18 pages)
This section has 10 encounter locations, not all of them have creatures in them. Included are 4 mini dungeons.
Chapter 7 – The Dead Fields (12 pages)
This section has 6 encounter locations. Including 2 mini dungeons one of them with event based encounters. There is also some NPC's that could prove to be replacement PC's or Cohorts.
Chapter 8 – The Crossroads and the Tsar (3 pages)
It gives a little history about the city and how it came under the influence of Orcus. This section includes 4 encounters. One of them is pretty clever, I won't ruin the surprise but it is interesting to say the least.
Chapter 9 – NPC Appendix (10 pages)
This section list all the NPC's with full stat blocks, it breaks them up by area. So all the camp NPC's are listed together, next section The Ashen Waste etc.
Chapter 10 – Monster Appendix (31 pages)
It has 30 new monsters (some are variation of existing monsters), it also has the stat blocks of every monster in the adventure. It also lists the book that the monster came from.(most seem to come from the Creature Collections books 1-3 or Tome of Horror 1-2)
Chapter 11 – Magic Item Appendix (1 page)
Here is has 3 new magic items. One of them is a minor artifact and another is actually a magical trap used in the adventure.
Closing thoughts. This is a very sandbox style adventure, once the PC's arrive in the camp. They can go pretty much anywhere in this adventure and do what they want. Eventually, they should go into the city Tsar since that is what the 2nd adventure is about. This is a tough adventure and because of the sandbox style of play, it is very easy for PC's to get in other there heads. So they will need to know when to run. Some of the encounter are very challenging to down right deadly. Depending on the order the encounters are hit, some of them will also be very easy for the PC's as well.
So if you enjoy some of the classic DnD adventures that where dangerous and didn't pull any punches or more recent adventures like Rappan Athuk also by Necromancer games, then you will love this adventure. The encounters are not neatly arranged in groups by CR, but spread out. So if you like adventures that have all CR 1-2 on level one of the dungeon, CR 3-4 on level two of the dungeon, then this will be less appealing to you.
I do wish there had been a mini map (full page) of the whole area. Right now there are 4 maps one of each quarter of the area in each chapter. Which is nice for the detail but a nice quick reference overview map would have been nice too. While this adventure is made for 3.5, you could run it almost as is for Pathfinder. It would make it a little easier but I think still plenty challenging, or you could adapt things to Pathfinder. You could even use this adventure for 4E with a little work and I honestly think many would find this a very good 4E dungeon as well. Many of the encounters take place is interesting locations with good terrain features.
The encounter all seem well thought out and most are interesting and/or fit the adventure and location they are found in well. There is often advice on tactics the monster will use and how they can use the terrain to their advantage in the fight. For a new GM this is very helpful for a experienced GM less helpful but might make you consider things you normally might not.
The bad, there is a few flaws with this adventure. It could have used one more pass threw edit, there isn't many errors but there is a few. I couldn't really find a description of what the city walls looked like, maybe I just missed it. But it would have been nice to have as the PC's can get close enough to see them and anything that might stand out about them. Also not all the monsters are described. They have full stat blocks all you need to run them and what books they are from. But if you don't own said books you may not always know how to describe them. Most of them have enough hints in the encounter that you can make a educated guess, but still I feel it would have been nice to have a sentence or two description. The final bad is the price, at 29.99 for a PDF it is a bit pricy even with the 145 pages of almost all adventure text, though right now it is on sale at RPGNow(03/12.2010) for only 21.99. A note about the sale, I have been told it has always been on sale and right now there seems no intent to end the sale soon. But to be safe if you are interested I would pick it up ASAP while the sale is in place. At 21.99 the price is not bad since with almost no art the adventure is almost the size of two adventures but most other companies.
So should you buy this and what is my rating? Well that is a bit hard to answer and here's why. If you loved Rappan Athuk and other adventures like that. Then this is a 4 star product and I think you will love it. (the few errors, lack of descriptions and price etc drop the rating down) If you like things neatly sectioned off by level, so the party never fights things before they should, then you are less likely to enjoy it. You could even then get some use out of it but it would require some work. If you are a fan of this style of adventure and play 4E I would give it a 3 star(dropping the rating cause of the extra work). It would require a bit of work but if you are willing to do the conversion I think you would enjoy it. If you like Pathfinder RPG I think you could pretty much run it as is with little work and enjoy it. So should you buy it? Well that depends on if you like this style of adventure, if you do then I recommend it. I think you will be very happy with it. As a final note I should point out I was given this PDF for free by Greg A. Vaughan for purpose of this review, to be fair I had planned to buy it when the PoD(Print on Demand for a print copy) option was finally available. So perhaps my last bit of advice to buy it is this. Even with the free PDF which I could print out, I still plan to buy the print version when the PoD is finally available.
If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them in this thread and I will answer them as best I can. I avoid spoiling the adventure as much as I could while stilling giving it a review of content, so you will know if you want to buy it. Hopefully I accomplished that goal.