EZG goes to Slumbering Tsar- into the Hidden Citadel

Hej everybody,

I'm sure you expected to see the finale of the Road to revolution by now, but I figured that for diversity's sake, I'd make a detour to dread Tsar in this season of cheer and joy to bring the tears back to the faces of your PCs. Thus, without further ado, let's check out

The Hidden Citadel I - At the Feet of Orcus

This pdf is 68 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages SRD and 1 page advertisement, leaving 62 pages of content, so let's check out the latest installment of the epic Slumbering Tsar saga!

This being the first review of the final section of the Slumbering Tsar-saga, this review not only contains SPOILERS for this particular installment, but for the whole saga. Potential players might want to skip ahead to the conclusion to avoid the massive SPOILERS.

Still here? All right!

The end of the epic exploration of the deadly temple-city of Orcus has the PCs use the legendary statues called disciples to call back Orcus' Hidden Citadel, a statue of the demon-lord of undeath as tall as a mountain and this adventure quite literally takes place at (and in!) the feet of Orcus, as the PCCs journey into the true palace of the dread demon-lord of Undeath. The adventure recaps what has gone before as well as the myth behind the demon lord and comes with adventure hooks for the saga. The pdf also includes an extensive set of rumors regarding the citadel and its factions as well as a recap of the effects on the dread aura of corruption infusing the fortress, the pall of Tsar.

As with many of the Tsar-installments, this one also features a series of ready-to-drop-in encounters that happen when a specific story-goal is reached (which often allude to future installments) - these ones especially emphasize the epic proportions of the saga - from the ultimate fate of a celestial spy, the truth behind the midnight peddler and the possible redemption of an artifact, the themes featured herein are sufficiently epic for the higher levels. In case you wondered, the way to defeat the pall is also included in these pages. However, if you're out there to scavenge these encounters, you should be aware that they are rather high-CR and deadly, in fact harder than this particular installment of ST, as they allude to things that happen over the course of the whole exploration of the Hidden Citadel.

The feet of Orcus can roughly be separated into two areas, the great temple and the Death Chambers. It should also be noted that a one-page table fills us in about the ultimate fate of the 51 knights, most of which have been assimilated into the cult of Orcus and converted into undead (and other!) monstrosities. The temple makes for a challenging environment, even for high-level PCs.

The Death Chambers are deadly. The huge, advanced gibbering mouther (predecessor of the things to come - see one of the creatures from the encounters - Bell, the gibbering lich...) as well as the dread silid goblioids who adhere to the Deathbringer order make for deadly foes - their witch queen being an especially smart foe.
The pdf also has a monster appendix featuring the CR 16 Flayed Angel and the CR 2 Toxic Mudman.
The Deathbringer Cult gets its own special weapon quality and a certain artifact gets a haul-over, as its true power is unleashed. Even better, we get 4 pages of player hand-outs and 4 pages of maps.

 Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. layout adheres to the 2-column, printer-friendly b/w-standard we've come to expect from FGG. The maps are brown/grey and the artworks are neat. The pdf comes with extensive bookmarks. This is a part of the ST-saga that is rather hard to rate - on the one hand, the adventure is great, the dungeon deadly and the foes iconic. However, while the pdf is good, it also did not have this extreme iconicity I observed with other ST-installments. On the other hand, a lot of disjointed narratives and subplots come together and in rather interesting ways, especially in the metaplot encounters. However, this is also where the format of the serial pdfs somewhat falls short - the mega-dungeon that is the citadel is an organic environment and as such it somewhat suffers from being cut into pieces and, more so than previous ST-installments, this one points towards as of yet unreleased pdfs, which makes running the installment a bit harder. Since the dungeons form itself is very iconic and atmospheric, I'm also not sure whether the adventure would profit from being used to scavenge parts, though the two areas and themes do lend themselves to this endeavor. When all's said and done, this is an awesome installment for everyone following the ST-saga. For everyone else, though, there are better ST-parts out there. Don't let that fool you, though: Greg A. Vaughan delivers and this is once again an excellent pdf - my final verdict will be 4.5 Rudii.

The Hidden Citadel II - Echoes of Despair

This pdf is 50 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, leaving 45 pages for this installment of the epic Slumbering Tsar series.

This being a review of a part of the final section of Slumbering Tsar, this review contains SPOILERS and I'll encourage any potential players to skip to the conclusion. You don't want to spoil this one.

...Still here?

All right!
This installment has the PCs enter the Shanks of Orcus, where Deathhands and overseers, demonic servants and dread creatures await the PCs. Amidst living quarters, demonic kitchens and mega-swarms of all-devouring rats, the PCs will start to encounter... N'gathau! To those of you not familiar with them - think Hellraiser's Cenobites in even more twisted. But not all is dread and despair in this area, as the PCs may actually find and rescue and as of yet uncorrupted hound archon of the original army of light within these halls. (Who also makes for a neat replacement character - after all, the huge gelatinous cube may have consumed more than one PC..)

That's not all that can be found, though: We also venture into the Templar's Garrison, where deadly black skeletons remain as guards and dread Wight-lord Vai maintains his strict regiment over his section of the fortress's grounds.

Any religion like Orcus needs a steady supply of slaves and thus, the slave quarters of the fortress are also covered in this installment and offer a chance for the PCs to save a legendary paladin from his predicament. They may also clash with a monitor demon (and his 5 new spells), a dread char-goblin lich aand finally, the creations of the Magitect: A unique transmuter-turned construct who has, among others, created a dragon-like construct called "Caustic Purger", Troll-flesh Golems and similar monstrosities.

We get 4 pages of new monsters, 2 new specific weapons and 1 specific weapon quality, 1 page player handout and 5 pages of maps, one of which is a nice, key-less overview map that you can cut up and hand to your PCs - nice!

Editing and formatting are top-notch, as I've come to expect from Frog God Games. Layout adheres to a classic two-column b/w-standard and the pieces of b/w-artworks are mostly STUNNING. The pdf comes with extensive bookmarks to ease navigation.

Surprisingly, the excursion through halls laden with despair provided to be fun and, dare I say it? Amazing. The "Boss"-foes once again are at the top of their respective games and especially the Magitect and his creatures make for challenging, cool foes. the amount of detailed maps also made this installment of ST rather intriguing. More importantly, I think that for people who want to scavenge from the final dungeon of the epic, this installment holds more ready and is not as focused on meta-plot as its predecessor. While it would take some work, I can see the content of this module easily work on its own. Seeing that content-wise there is more desolate, unique imagery than in its predecessor and that I enjoyed this installment, I do have some gripe with it. It is deadly, it is grand - but as of yet, the Citadel of Orcus just doesn't feel as grandiose, as dark, as deadly as the temple-city to me when it should ooze urgency, antiquity and raw evil. While this may yet be remedied in future installments, for now my final verdict will be 4.5 Rudii.

The Hidden Citadel III - The Throne of the Demon Prince

This pdf is 64 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages SRD and 1 page blank, leaving 58 pages of content for the third section of Orcus hidden citadel, so let's check it out, shall we?

This installment of the citadel, as all the others, details a part of the finale of Slumbering Tsar, thus my review will contain massive SPOILERS. Potential players might want to jump to the conclusion.

Still here?
All right!

This installment details the Lap of the gigantic Orcus-statue that makes up the citadel - in concordance with the life-giving associations of the lap, it is here that once the huddled, fearful mortal servitors toiled for their undead and demonic masters.
In the artisan's quarters, the PCs can not only enjoy a decay-riddled vista over Tsar, but here, in a once-posh restaurant, they will find wolf-spiders to fight and even a queen of the magical beasts to kill. If you're like me and your players once stood against Miska and successfully defeated the Wolf-Spider against all odds, any encounter with these magical beasts feels like a blast from the past. From Potters, to chandlers to all the other craftsmen needed in such a huge citadel, the quarter adds a whole new, almost simulationalist perspective to the citadel and makes the dungeon feel more organic, albeit in a decaying, undead, shambling way. Special mention should be given to the Jeweler and moneylender: The first offers a valuable piece of treasure and nice information on the ultimate fate of one of the most elusive rogues in history, while the other is haunted by dread, deadly time flayers. We should also mentioned the aerial cavalry-animals, spider-eaters and their queen - dread hornet-like creatures with the ability to implant their young.

The entertainment district is overrun by megaswarms of dretches and still boosts some of the decadent pleasures once available to Orcus mortal followers - from the arena to the rather lethal sadist's club (led by a succubus dominatrix), the PCs will have plenty of obstacles to overcome. Not the least will be the bathhouse, featuring not only a witch tree of the vilest kind, but also some elite nagas and their mortal servants. And don't forget Lady Slaeth, the Marilith sorceress mistress of the local brothel: She can be considered the "boss" of this area and her entourage. Information on one layer of the Abyss is also provided in this section, as there is a gateway and it's permanent.

Oh, have I mentioned the game of Kerouz, an abyssal kind of dice-game, in which the PCs can participate against a table of deadly, bored players including a rakshasa, imps, an ifrit... you get the idea. And of course, not only is the game deadly, your very soul is at stake when playing...
And never mind the deadly, abyssal minotaur cleric of Baphomet prowling the corridors...
The appendices deal with the new dretch megaswarm (including a new artwork), 4 new magic items (3 of which get awesome b/w artworks), 1 page handout and 4 pages of maps, one of which is an overview of the whole area, sans keys and thus suitable to be printed out, cut into pieces and handed to your PCs while they are exploring. I might be the minority, I'm not sure there,  but I really enjoy these overview-maps.

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to the classic b/w-2-column standard by FGG and the b/w-artworks are stunning and mostly (when not taken from the ToH) at the top of the beauty-scale. The pdf comes with extensive bookmarks.

This installment is curious in that it delivers some relief from the undead/demon-heavy installments by showcasing some depravities of the mortal and more relatable Orcus-worshippers still seep through the decay of the citadel, the PCs will be challenged by the lethal adversaries herein. Much to my enjoyment, the now derelict stores make the dungeon feel more organic, real and believable - you can almost taste the levels of decadence within these halls. On the other hand, I felt that mood-setting information, visions etc. would have gone along way to make this particular part of the dungeon even more memorable. As for its stand-alone qualities - if you're looking for a kind of abyssal dungeon city of depravity, you might want to check this installment of Slumbering Tsar out. My final verdict for this installment will be 4.5 Rudii due to this nagging feeling that some of the potential of this area remains untapped - in particular, I would have liked to see a demonic drug den, more depraved remains of the practices of the servants of Orcus etc - something to emphasize this area's blending of the urges of Eros and Thanatos in the most depraved ways possible.

All right, that's it for now, folks! Next time I'm going to conclude the Road To Revolution! See you then! And in case I don't get to write before then: Happy holidays!
As always, thank you for reading my ramblings,
Endzeitgeist out.

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