today I'm going to take a look at the second and third installment of Greg A. Vaughan's epic Slumbering Tsar saga's second part in which we delve further into the dread city of Orcus.
The Lower City
This installment of the epic Slumbering Tsar series is 64 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page of SRD, 2 pages of advertisements, leaving 58 pages of content, so let's look at the lower city: Can it stand up to the horrors encountered in the tower of weeping sores?
This being an adventure review, the following contains massive
so please, potential players, stop reading here.
The dread city of Tsar is defined, among other things, by a deadly pall, a kind of evil mist that not only blocks direct sunlight (hello vampires!), but also impedes [good] magic and makes detect evil a rather bad idea. More insidiously, though, the pall corrupts any who dare to rest within, slowly subverting them to Orcus' influence via garish nightmares and the dread power of the demon prince of the undead.
After several rumors to glean in Tsar, the adventure continues to give us a selection of events, as Tsar is a (un-)living environment: The PCs won't have an easy time exploring the city, as e.g. a sniper (an an invisible stalker one at that) with a reach of 3000 (!!) ft. will start trying to pick off the PCs, necessitating some clever thinking/triangulation. Another problem the PCs might face is the return of an advanced storm giant dread ghast with a whopping CR of 17 - Slumbering Tsar is hardcore and epic and while the encounter is epic and rocks, squealers need not apply when the once pure general of the army of light escapes from his prison, hungry for the life-force of men. Oh yeah, once the PCs have a certain artifact, they'll have to deal with a steady onslaught of trolls, troll-kin and mutated varieties in addition to Tsar's dangers. On the side of things in favor of the PCs, they may complete the quest of Gerrant of Gilboath, paladin-spirit and potential ally as well as mentor for becoming a Justicar (PrC) and source of some more than nice items. Oh, there's also the encounter that details the return of the cursed undead caravan carrying the last disciple to the temple-city once the PCs have returned the others to their place and the caravan is hardcore. A section detailing return to the camp to stock up as well as random encounters are also provided.
There is a section detailing the Grunge, a part of the city that was heavily damaged during the assault of the army of light, including a fully mapped and disturbing shop of a bone cobbler. Apart from that, we also get a spawning pit of blood golems and a tunnel. Boring? Au contraire, mes amis! The demon-infested tunnel provides access to both the cliff warrens and the missing river (from the harrow lanes) and features e.g. a cool (and somehwat hilarious) Morlock chief that enjoys playing his pipes of pain whom, the PCs will have to stop to enter the higher levels of Tsar, but hobgoblins, ogres, a dinosaur, an ettin-colony and some troglodytes might provide for a challenging delve through the caverns. 1 map featuring some thankfully keyless sample lairs are provided.
The other area detailed is the Great Swamp that once was a regular part of the city and now comes with its very own random encounter tables. The swamp also has 3 bosses - a giant bog turtle, an advanced swamp tyrant and a half-dragon demodand with his own tar golem, guarding one of the disciples and making for an interesting, albeit strange potential ally.
The pdf concludes with 3 monsters (screamer, skeletal swarm, toxic mudman), an entry on the minor artifacts that are the 9 disciples as well as 2 new PrCs, the Justicar and the Disciple of Orcus, both of which, while powerful, are aptly designed. Much to my rejoicing, the Justicar comes with its own spelt-out codex.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice a single glitch. Layout adheres to the elegant printer-friendly two-column standard of the ST-series. The b/w-artworks rock and evoke a classic flair I've come to associate with the series. The maps feature the used-parchment look and offer grids, but once again, I would have loved extra versions without the annoying map-keys in order to print out, cut out and then offer to my players. The pdf is bookmarked, though not as extensively as I would have liked. An overview map of the city is provided for your convenience. This installment of ST focuses HEAVILY on exploration of a ruined city and does so in a cool and evocative manner - Even while reading it, I felt the dread and pervading oppressiveness and danger of Tsar and its ancient evil. Greg A. Vaughan once again created a superbly iconic location and for anyone interested in the whole saga, this is a clear 5-Rudii recommendation. However, while you might scavenge bits and pieces, I'm not sure whether this installment would be as fitting to be torn apart and resized for other adventures. People looking for that might want to detract a Rudi. But then again: Why are you not getting the whole series? ;)
This installment of the epic Slumbering Tsar series is 60 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of advertisements and 1 page of SRD, leaving 53 pages of content, so let's take a good look at the second level of Orcus' dread temple-city!
This being an adventure review, the following contains massive
so please, potential players, stop reading.
The second foray into the mean streets of Tsar is introduced via, how could it be any different, random encounters and the respective critters. In order to access the harrow lanes, the PCs might have to brave the so-called lower tower gate (which comes with a one-page map) and an advanced devourer acts as the boss-fight for one of the Tsar-spanning side-quest detailing the redemption of Mordecai and offering a crucial hint for a future installment of the series. The hammer that is a part of this quest is depicted in the appendix (as a minor artifact) and gets its own detailed b/w-artwork. Nice!
Next up is the smithy of Larach-Umbriol, a smithy necessary to complete another quest from the desolation, potentially resulting in an event described in the "lower City" - it should be noted that we get another one-page map.
There is also an encampment of rather elite gnolls that make for a rather hard encounter - the PCs will have to deal with the huge wicker man the gnolls revere (interlacing with another encounter from the lower city) as well as many deadly opponents - if the PCs don't tread lightly or fight smart, they'll be in for a world of pain. The map for the gnoll camp is also provided on another page. However, the encampment suffers from a relic
At the northernmost point of the harrow lanes, the PCs can find a majestic villa, where a covey of hags and their fire giant minions reside - here the PCs might complete a quest for vengeance for a exiled hag. Of course, this area also gets its own map. The fallen towers of the city get a map, too and the encounter from the lower city featuring the invisible sniper can be brought to a conclusion in this area. The Next area we are introduced to (again, with its own map), is the Khanjar's gauntlet, i.e. the rather deadly gallow-trees guarded lair of a deadly woodwrack dragon.
Next up on the plate is a foundry, which one day was intended to create a titanic super-cannon, now being guarded by a plethora of golems and undead and elemental-driven furnaces. Of course, we get another nice one-page map for the foundry.
The final area of the harrow lanes depicts the cathedral of pain, the lower-class former temple of Orcus. Unfortunately, there is another
The pdf closes with appendices detailing a new undead creature (with its own b/w-artwork), the dark custodian, as well as entries on afore mentioned hammer and the entry on the 9 disciples.
The pdf adheres to the concise and clear two-column layout of FGG, complete with a plethora of high-quality b/w-artworks. Formatting is top-notch, but the two relics I found prevent me from giving a perfect score in formal criteria. It should also be noted that my version of this pdf did not feature bookmarks, which makes navigating the file harder. With regards to content, we once again get iconic and challenging places, encounters and the conclusion to some rather interesting quests from the series, which is great for people following the whole saga. For those of you who want to buy a separate file, though, this one might not be the best choice - the harrow lanes are very entwined with the lower city and both files practically necessitate each other for full usability.
On another note, I noticed that finding the disciples can prove rather difficult on the DM - on my first (granted, rather casual and hasty) read-through of the file while riding the train to work, I missed the disciple statue the PCs can find in this adventure. I hope that in the final book, they'll be somewhat highlighted for the DM's ease - after all, they're the focus of this part of the saga. The separation of encounters in e.g. the lower city and its areas here made my reference of some of the things that go on in Tsar a bit harder than they should be. While I'm sure that the final epic hardcover won't suffer from these problems, I think the two would have been better in a double price and content file. This, along with the very minor editing glitches ( I didn't notice typos or grammatical errors, after all) and the missing bookmarks result in a final verdict of 4 Rudii. Add half a Rudi if you're using the whole saga or are especially interested in using the whole temple-city.
All right, that's it for now,
as always, thank you for reading my ramblings,