Today I'm going to take a look at Raging Swan's latest adventure,
This pdf is 39 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside of the front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC and SRD, 1 page advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving 33 pages of content.
The newest adventure by Raging Swan's mastermind, Creighton Broadhurst, "Dark Oak" is closer in style to "Road of the Dead" than to "Retribution" in the sense that it is a quite straightforward adventure.
After a brief synopsis, the adventure background, lore sections on the background, a short random encounter table, side-boxes on hooks and rumors as well as a section on tactics, we get a nice 1-page b/w-map of the complex to be explored by the PCs. This is where, once again, Raging Swan's high quality and thought for the stressed DM shows: Among the player aids we also find keyless maps, both with and without grids, that you can print out and then cut up to show to the players when they enter an area. This additional benefit is just what makes the difference between a good and an excellent product. It should also be noted that two magic items get their own artworks and are presented in another hand-out for players.
The pdf does not stop there, though: There are also 4 b/w-artworks of adversaries to print out and show to your players. The adventure also comes with 6 pregenerated characters that come fully equipped. The attention to detail is nice, as one of them actually has some cold iron and silver arrows (without necessarily needing them in this adventure). There is, of course, also the obligatory page that explains how to read stat-blocks to novice DMs. The adventure itself spans 16 pages and can be played in one session.
This is where the spoilers begin, so potential players beware!
The adventure itself is a very straightforward mini-delve that centers on the PCs trying to vanquish already almost broken tribe of Lizardmen. On the apex of their might, this particular tribe managed to corrupt a treant, who now lies charred and semi-insane in front of their caves and send it towards the human settlements. Now, some years later, they resume their attacks in a final blaze of non-glory, as the paranoia of the druidic tribal leader has forced the tribe on the slippery slope towards drug-induced extinction. Rules for the new drug as well as the mold that befell the treant are provided along rules for 2 new magic items. In the fine tradition of the former adventures by Raging Swan, this one also requires your PCs to fight smart - environmental hazards, area features, tactics - these enemies don't fight like cannon-fodder. More importantly, though, is the fact that your PCs don't HAVE to fight - diplomacy is also an option in more than one encounter, e.g. in the one with the semi-mad treant, who may actually reward the PCs for fulfilling his vengeance against the lizardfolk. There is but one encounter where I would have enjoyed a section on diplomacy and found it lacking, an encounter with a crocodile. I would have loved a section on PCs taming the beast, but that is nitpicking at the highest level. Each encounter has some kind of environmental hazard, feature or peculiarity that makes it unique and not run-of-the-mill - be it the drug, a giant Lizardfolk or the NPCs. The attention to detail is also stunning, as several mood-setting little details have been included on both the map and in the descriptions.
Editing is top notch, I didn't notice any typos. Formatting also rocks and layout adheres to the clean, printer-friendly Raging Swan standard. It should be noted, however, that this adventure marks the advent of Raging Swan's Dual Pdf-initiative, which means that you also get a 1.8 Mb small version of the adventure optimized for the use with iPads and similar e-readers. Better yet, the older Raging Swan releases will be updated, too, and get their own versions. While I'm old-school and prefer dead tree, I still think it's a great idea. There are some very minor downsides to report, though: One of the artworks (Lizardfolk Chieftain) is beautiful, granted, but I will always associate it with Ahnkar-Kosh (by RiP). Another artwork, Lizardfolk Champion, looked more like a Kobold to me. On the other hand, the artwork for the treant just ROCKS. The adventure itself is straightforward but cool and features roleplaying encounters to solve problems without fighting. While I don't consider this adventure to be genius, I do consider it to be a supreme example of an adventure you can just pick up and play with your group without having to prepare it in advance. Thus, due to all the comfort and the low price I'll settle for a 5-Rudii final verdict for this little delve - well done!
Next time, I'll take a look at a certain new adventure featuring a sinkhole. Until then, as always, thank you for reading my ramblings,