Today marks the end of an era. When I was still getting into the whole reviewing thing, when I wasn't half as active on the boards as I am today, there was an interview on this very blog. An interview which contributed greatly and yes, perhaps even sparked the whole drive to putting the epic Slumbering Tsar-saga out there. Without this place, there probably would be no Frog God Games today and frankly, I don't know whether I'd be here today, reviewing this for. Thus, it is my honor and pleasure, loyal readers, to bring to you the final 3 reviews of the epic saga. Enjoy!
The Hidden Citadel IV - In the Belly of the Beast
This installment of the Slumbering Tsar-saga is 60 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of advertisements and 3 pages of SRD, leaving 51 pages of content for the fourth installment of the finale of saga, so let's take a closer look, shall we?
This being an adventure review, the following text contains SPOILERS. Potential players might wish to jump to the conclusion.
Still here? All right, this time, we're in the literal belly of the dreaded citadel - here the Pcs can solve some minor puzzles (altar activates doors), battle gigantic cathedral beetles, encounter the mysterious oathstone, where thousands have bartered away their souls and potentially scavenge the remains of one of Orcus' finest disciples. Oh, then there is the horn that both the disciples and PCs may blow. It has a 1%-chance of summoning... ORCUS! Well, an avatar of the demon lord, but still - CR 35. Suffer, you wretches, suffer! Also contains in these halls are the citadel's scriptorium (including Dark Custodians), tallow-works (including tallow golems) and the mausoleum can also be found here.
Now if Orcus + Mausoleum does not ring a bell, then let me phrase it out for you: Deadly, deadly undead and failed champions of good riding nessian hellhounds ahead...and an undead cyclone that spawns the living dead! Hell yeah! Have I mentioned a dread living disease, a legendary behemoth gorilla vampire (including stunning artwork) and the possibility to encounter the very first Grand Cornu of the Citadel, now turned Demi-lich?
Of course, the citadel also includes a depiction of Orcus' wand and in this installment, the PCs may finally explore it and find the Belfry, the home-base of the dreaded, practically indestructible Bell, one of the bosses of the dungeon. (More on this one in my Hidden Citadel I-review.)
The second area covered in this installment is the bosom of Orcus, where the dread wizards of the college of Glazerel once studied and played their pranks on one another. It is also here, the PCs will have to battle one of the Lich instructors. It should also be noted that some of the more creative traps can be found in this part of the fortress. Where things really get interesting, though, is in the laboratories, where proto-creatures and abandoned weapon-experiments lurk. It is here taht PCs can e.g. save a legendary unicorn-cleric of old and test their mettle against the legendary protean keeper - if they are not irreversibly transformed by proto-matter, that is (a 3d12-table provides some sample mutations).
In the appendices, we are introduced to the Dark Custodians, Living Diseases, Proto-creatures, 2 artifacts (all with artworks) and maps: We get an overview map (very helpful) and 7 pages of maps for the respective areas. Even better, key-less maps will feature in the final product!
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. layout adheres to the elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the b/w-artworks are neat, especially, the original/new pieces. The pdf is fully bookmarked and comes with extensive map-support. I immensely enjoyed this installment of the Slumbering Star saga, as I do just about every piece of it, but as with the other installments depicting the Hidden Citadel, your ability to scavenge individual parts might be impeded - The Citadel is ONE dungeon with a lot of ties to other levels, meta-quests to succeed in etc. and while I did have no complaints about this installment and enjoyed most of the dungeon immensely, I did somewhat feel like this could be even better - if your PCs battle a certain lich and try to get rid of the smartly defended phylactery, you'll know what I mean. Nevertheless, I would have preferred more information on the respective areas, what once happened there/still does etc. Mind you, there is a lot of information - I just would have loved more to make the sub-section of the dungeon more distinct. Thus, my final verdict will be 4.5 Rudii.
The Hidden Citadel V - The Mind of Chaos
This pdf is 60 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages SRD and 1 page advertisement, leaving 55 pages of content, so let's check this out!
This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Thus, I encourage potential players to skip to the conclusion of the review.
Still here? All right! This time, we're going up to the topmost levels of Orcus legendary sanctuary - in ths installment, the PCs will have to brave not only the upmost levels of Orcus' citadel, but also their inhabitants and oh boy, they are HARDCORE. Even the regular guardians consist of modified creatures and e.g. Gray Render-zombies. The creature "Soulless" would for example be a glabrezu juj-zombie - but that's not all - home to the most corrupting rites and chambers of the elite of Orcus' host. Gibbering mouther fast zombies, mirror fiends, the most depraved of fey and a slew of high-level vampires await the PCs, seeking to end the incursion of these meddling mortals.
Have I mentioned that Soul Reapers prowl these halls? Crucifixion spirits and fallen angels stand ready to end your groups and end them they might - the senshal, major domo (btw.: cleric/disciple of orcus/fighter mummy) and other major players in the hierarchy await to truly challenge the mettle of the group. Corrupted planetars and legendary champions of good remain, now tarnished by Orcus' pall in these halls and a sense of extreme, deepest bowels of the abyss-level evil and despair pervades these halls and offers the PCs a glimpse into the vast corrupting power of Orcus - n'gathau, legendary demons, balors, broken spirits - rarely, if ever, has a module featured such an array of extremely deadly foes, such a who's who of complex rogue-gallery-style legends and, if foreshadowed correctly (something DMs of the campaigns should definitely do), meeting these legends and what they've become should prove to be a jarring, potentially extremely disturbing experience indeed.
The true climax of this part of the module, though, lies not in fighting the foes herein, but in finally reaching the Crown of Orcus, where the knowledge of the PCs will be tested in a contest of riddles (YES!) that are based on whether the PCs have found out about the background story and can correctly interpret what has happened here. Rewarding thusly clever rpging and investment in the epic, this section is truly my favorite part of the dungeon so far, as the story of Tsar and piecing together what has happened here finally reaps rewards. And pieced together it has to be - the saga does not offer the details on a silver platter, but perseverance is rewarded - if the PCs manage to defeat the now corrupted legendary hero Lord Bishu, one of the CR 21 bosses of this module.
The appendices contain the stats for the dretch megaswarm-monster, 1 page containing a new magic item and a property, the disciple of Orcus PrC, two handouts (one being the Grand Cornu's testament) and 10 pages of maps, leaving only the very last part of Tsar for the PCs to explore - after these challenges, though, they will probably dread the things to come - and hopefully rightly so!
Editing and formatting are very good, I didn't notice any significant glitches. The pdf adheres to FGG's b/w-two-column standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked. The handouts and maps are of the quality we've come to expect from the series and I look forward to the player-friendly versions of the maps in the final, epic tome. The foes in this installment finally do it: They're smart. They're dastardly evil. They can be considered true bosses. They're deadly with a capital "D" and they pull no punches. This installment finally feels like the PCs have entered one of the deadliest, vilest places to blight the planet and perhaps the multiverse and in order to triumph, they will be challenged in all regards. This is epic. This is brilliant. This unfortunately does not work half as well if you haven't read the whole saga. But who cares - this is, indeed, a fitting climax and several of the foes herein would make for valid campaign end-bosses. But they're not. The true masterminds are still waiting in the wings. The climax is coming. After reading this, I expect a challenge of epic proportions, a finale of truly epic and dreadful revelations and challenges. I loved this installment - Rudii + Endzeitgeist seal of approval.
The Hidden Citadel VI - Caverns of the Barrier
This pdf is 56 pages long and introduces us to the grand finale of perhaps the most epic adventure ever published, the finale to the Slumbering Stars saga and it clocks in at 56 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of advertisement and 2 pages of SRD, leaving 49 pages of content, so let's check out whether the finale of ST can top the stellar penultimate module!
This being an adventure review and one for the finale of the series to boot, this review contains SPOILERS for the FINALE. Players, you know the drill and believe me, you want to skip to the conclusion.
All right! Still here? Last Chance...
Ok, here reign the SPOILERS. The PCs by now have completed the exploration of the Hidden Citadel and have to brave the very depths to uncover and thwart Orcus' final gambit by climbing down St. Haru's Well and right from the start, the utter sense of ancient evil permeates every word as you read it. After essentially butchering their way through the elite cadre of Orcus' clergy and his corrupted adversaries, the PCs are in for a change. A PUZZLE! A complex, smart PUZZLE! YES! In order to proceed, the PCs will have to brave an ancient problem (which can be solved via skill checks, but where's the fun in that?) and then cross a huge chasm - animated arms are stuck in the ceiling and thus PCs can cross the deadly chasm by swinging from grasping hand to grasping hand - if they manage to avoid (another minor puzzle) the trap among the hands. If you're stunned by the iconicity of this, just wait until the PCs meet the disfigured giant ferryman who, via his huge, deformed fist, might ferry them to the caverns in the shell of a dead albino dragon turtle across demon-infested waters.
Once the crossing into what can be considered an original tribute to underworld mythology has been braved, the PCs won't have a respite and essentially face an army of Orcus' chosen black orogs (some of which come with extremely deadly bristles) on their home territory and we're indeed talking about the very worst of a strike force anyone could muster - a DM worth his salt can give the PCs truly a run for their money and a vast, epic battle/infiltration etc. is all in the realm of possibility. Several CR 20+ elite champions, ettin strikers and Orcus right hand, the demon lord Sonechard await the PCs. Yes. Sonechard. The demon lord. Is part of the opposition. As is an elemental earth dragon. And these are not the final bosses! Throughout the vast complex, insight on this isolationalist society are conveyed via exploration and the sequential battles and responses to the PCs incursion and your players as well as PCs are going to be challenged to their utmost abilities if they not only want to breach the territory of the orogs, but actually stamp out the vile breed and find the truth - in fact, the PCs may actually experience a vision that not only explains the genesis of the goddess Hel, but also that of Orcus!
And then, there's the utterly epic final battle and it's not against Orcus, but against the ultimate perversion of a draconic being - a sleeping golden dragon, infused and tarnished by Orcus foul will has been transformed and corrupted and is supposed to one day become Orcus' chosen receptacle. An epic, final showdown against an ancient draconic being thus serves as the ultimate showdown of the epic Slumbering Tsar-saga and may actually result in the rebirth of a belief that has been forgotten as well as providing a fitting conclusion to this truly even now legendary saga. And rest assured that I have not mentioned all this conclusion has going for it.
The pdf also includes an appendix with the Disciple of Orcus-PrC, two pages detailing the hierarchy of Tsar's military and church and 9 pages of maps.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to the 2-column standards and the b/w-artworks are neat. The pdf comes with full bookmarks. I was rather hoping for this saga to end on a high note and with all the quality ideas and sense of ancient evil permeating the saga, I was sincerely dreading the Mass Effect 3-effect. I'm happy, extremely happy in fact, to report that this finale represents a brilliant and fitting conclusion of epic proportions to all the suffering, sweat and pain of the PCs. The descent, the final battle, the dread force, the lost truth the PCs can uncover. The Puzzle, the challenge. Any group of PCs who considers themselves at the top of their game - this saga is a challenge to your experience, your ability to persevere and defeat the worst the dread Demon Lord of Undead has to throw at you. Tsar is Abyss on earth, perhaps even worse. And it is this sense of epic threats, of an almost undefeatable evil that brings out the best and worst in PCs as they brave dangers beyond the ken of just about any module out there. Take up the weapons, memorize your spells and look at this challenge - a wasteland, a huge city, an iconic dungeon. Your PCs are standing against the ultimate taint and perhaps the doom of your very world. Gear up, pray to your gods, enter the desolation and brave the dangers. This conclusion to the saga is a worthy finale indeed. My verdict? 5 Rudii + Endzeitgeist seal of approval.
All right, that's it! I'll write again about the exclusive chapter from the hardcover as soon as I have it! As always, thank you for reading my ramblings,