without much ado, here's my review of RiP's latest issue of
Adventure Quarterly #2
The second issue of Rite Publishing's quarterly adventure-magazine is 90 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page blank inside the back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving 84 pages of content, so let's check this out!
This being a review of an adventure-based magazine, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.
All right, still here? Excellent! The first module is a slight blast from the past for me - we get the complete first level of the Ruins Perilous by Jonathan McAnulty of Kaidan and Coliseum Morpheuon-fame. Once a project with an experimental funding system, the project has been dormant for some time, which as a pity: The Ruins Perilous are located next to Questhaven, Rite Publishing's upcoming magical renaissance city governed by adventurers and the Ruins are not only a mega-dungeon, but also a kind of proving ground: Cleared by the first adventurers of the Questor's Society, each level of the Ruins includes a Guild-Forge, where the emblematic rings that denote rank in the society can be upgraded, making exploration of the dungeon one of the ways to enhance your standing in the Questor's Society.
AQ #2 includes the complete first level, released for the very first time in its entirety. With adventurers exploring the place, it needs a care-taker to remain a challenge and there indeed is one: Carcera, a dungeon dragon, takes care that vanquished foes are replaced and also monitors and modifies this artificially maintained dungeon environment - but each replacement takes some time. And should the PCs die, their corpses will be hauled back by Ciicul, Stonewarden the cynical groundskeeper gargoyle for proper burial. The first level of the Ruins Perilous turns out to thus have a rather interesting feeling, being something different in tone from your standard dungeon, which becomes readily apparent when the first creatures they fight turn out to be shivs, carnivorous green lizard that are quickly followed on by encounters with the first traps, a lesser ghostly shadow, giant porcupines, a junk elemental and an interesting, mysterious set of fountains, the transcription of which should elude the PCs due to the high DC, at least for now. PCs also have a chance to be squashed by logs, combat a mirror assassin and meet a tribe of thievish pilfer monkeys seeking to take their shiny baubles, equipment etc. Among the more far-out beings, once can encounter a 2-headed dire shadow rat, skeletal guardians made of smoke and vermin like giant ticks etc. Rather disturbing, the PCs can also find a rather nasty fungus that has created some fungal spider zombies.
In order to advance to level 2, though, they will first have to defeat ratfolk sentinels spying for their allies on level two, explore a garden of self-combusting flowers and a rather unpleasant amount of poisonous blue cave frogs before passing the guild forge and its guardian and venturing to level 2, which I hope to see in the next installment of AQ!
The module also features 3 new magic items, 6 new monsters, the full stats of Ciicul and 4 different pregens, all of which utilize some of the neat racial supplements by Rite Publishing.
The second module is T. H. Gulliver's "Into the Land of Tombs", a tantalizing locale first featured in the stellar "#30 Traps for Tombs", which to this day remains the best trap-book available for PFRPG. The once verdant land was beset by a dread cataclysm that ensured the gradual transformation of the land's culture - now a wasteland of tombs, people still shiver at the potential return of the Necromancer-Pharao Nukramajin - a detailed background along DCs etc. is provided for the PCs to unearth. When the nephew of Ayser Ayman died, the funeral procession set off towards the family crypt, guarded from the roaming undead by a magical crypt key - only to be attacked and almost wiped out by attackers, who took Hafa Ayman hostage. It is here the PCs come in: They have to journey to the land of tombs, without a crypt key, and return Ayser's sister to him. After a short interrogation of the surviving guard, the PCs will be off towards the place of the ambush where the bodies have recently been gnawed on and thus, the PCs can immediately make themselves a picture on how cowardly the guardsman truly is - as soon as a pack of sand ghasts breaks loose from the desert to add the PCs to the festering pile of bodies.
Now, after that, the awesomeness begins with a undead gunslinger Askari harassing the PCs and making for a truly unsettling encounter -whether diplomatic or combat-themed. After that, the PCs will sooner or later stumble upon the now undead funeral procession of Ayser's deceased nephew and have a chance to rescue Hafa Ayman, who has been locked up in the sarcophagus of her son. The mastermind, though has gone ahead to the family's crypt. Bringing the remains there, they can encounter the wizard Sekani Omari, who was after the crypt key to gain access to the family tomb - to find the legendary tomb of Nukramajin. He only got a cryptic prophecy, though, which might make for an awesome future module. Better yet, if you need an added complications in the show-down, you may add a new creature, the so-called Red Jester, which can be considered a truly deadly undead jester that was amused by the irony of the undead procession.
The high level module of this installment is Steven D. Russell's "Dungeon of No Return", which could e considered a nod towards the "Tomb Of Horrors". If the name was not ample clue: PCs will DIE here. In order to resurrect a legendary hero of old, the PCs need to reclaim a gem of power called the Quietus Starlight and are hired to enter the dungeon of no return, to once again stop the now reincarnated fey deity of autumn. The gem is a soul-prison, yes, but an insidious one - the hero of old doesn't want to leave it, for it is a true paradise and thus has created an order of powerful beings to ensure he is never disturbed - it is into this death-trap of a complex, against this hero's allies the PCs will have to march to rip the legend of old from his self-chosen complacency. Much like "Down the Rabbit Hole", this is a five-room dungeon, with each room containing some kind of deadly challenge the will not only require good rolls and builds, but also wits on part of the players to weather. And boy, does this module not pull any punches: After teleporting to the first room (via a carpet, probably), the PCs can imemdiately fall prey to a powerful illusion of "Dawning of the Wildstar", legendary blade of Rualsnis the Wyrd-smith and not only have fun with a deadly destruction spell, but also with a...balor. In room 1. Yeah. Ouch. However, if the PCs "get" a respective room and solve it without triggering its prohibition etc., they'll be rewarded quite generously in each of the rooms.
Speaking of ouch: A rainbow wall looks bad. A path into a side-room that turns out to be the path into the massive maw of a petrified gigantean hero-killer remorhaz Raze-Ruse(CR 25), though? PAIN. Worse, the insides of the petrified beast are dimensionally locked, making for easily very dead PCs. Speaking of dead - room 3 houses a crucifixion spirit as well as exemplar mudmen. How better, though to pass teh time before the dragon's lair than with a nice game of wheel of fortune? Guarded by an adamantine cannon golem that can practically not be defeated unless very specific conditions are met and an ironborn luckbringer, the PCs get a chance to play at the wheel-equivalent of a deck of many things, with a whopping 100 different results. Though, after an initial success, the luckbringer uses his powers to foul the PC's agenda and ensure the powerful curses befall them. (Btw.: all rules to properly play the luckbringer are depicted) In the final room, hidden by an illusion, waits the perhaps deadliest beast of all - a rival adventurer group of highest level, commanded by the hobgoblin brute Kraulog. His allies include a goblin rogue, a drow cleric and a fighter/evoker that come, as most builds herein, with multiple feats, magical item qualities, arcane discoveries or uncommon spells.
The pdf also features a massive 100-entries table of generic dungeon dressing features by Raging Swan mastermind Creighton Broadhurst as well as a short 2-page article I really enjoyed by Robert N. Emerson, as I use similar house-rules in my own game: If you care to, as a DM you'll get the guidelines for creating easy-to-use morale-rules for NPCs, re-introducing psychological warfare etc. in your game. Nice way to end this issue. Among the supplemental material, we find an extensive mixture of .png and .jpeg-versions of the maps - both with and without labels, making them suitable to potentially be printed out and handed to players while they explore - nice!
Editing and formatting are ok, though not perfect: I encountered multiple little typos like a missing "s" in "She" and the like, though nothing too grievous. Layout adheres to RiP's 2-column standard and the artworks are mostly stock. The pdf comes with extensive nested bookmarks as well as two separate zip-files, providing label-less versions of the maps in .png-format as well as versions with labels and keys in jpeg-format. Cartography is detailed and done with dundjinni.
The second installment of Adventure Quarterly once again provides us with a low, a mid- and a high-level adventure, so how do they fare? I'm a fan of the whole fresh "artificial, deadly proving ground"-idea of the Ruins Perilous, so that one is right up my alley and I'm rather glad we finally get to explore the complex's whole first level! I look forward to seeing the lower ones. My favorite, though, would be T.H. Gulliver's relatively short wilderness trek into the land of tombs, though: The module breathes iconic, dark Sword & Sorcery spirit and brims with some disturbing ideas - If only there was more space devoted to it.
While the fluff is clearly beyond reproach and cements my impression of T. H. Gulliver's vast capacity for writing a great adventure, the basic structure of the module is rather simple and would have benefited greatly from some additional hazards and haunts to complicate the quest of the PCs. I'd honestly would love to see a ~100+-page sourcebook/sandbox adventure on the land of tombs. The final module is a meat-grinder in the best sense of the word - consciously deadly, entering the "Dungeon of No Return" is not exactly a good way to plan for old age. This 5-room-dungeon lives up to its name, though I have one thing to complain about that one: The background story is awesome, but no epilogue or even stats are provided - I'd love to see an incursion into the legendary prison that is the quest's goal or even some other form of resolution - as provided, that's the one flaw of an otherwise stellar high-level module.
When all's said and done, we get 2 good dungeons and a wilderness trek that oozes style. Due to my minor complaints mentioned earlier, I'll settle on a final verdict of a solid 4 Rudii for the second issue of Adventure Quarterly.
Thanks for reading my ramblings,
Posted by Endzeitgeist at 11:52 AM
today, I'm taking a look at Alluria Publishing's take on underwater psionics,
Cerulean Seas: Waves of Thought
This pdf is 98 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page list of thanks for the Alluria kickstarter, 2 pages of Index, 1 page inside the back cover and 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of 88 pages of content, so let's check this out!
This is a pdf I honestly thought I'd never see - Alluria Publishing has created THE definite book for underwater adventuring with their massive, stellar quality Cerulean Seas Campaign Setting. Unfortunately, after that, the company got put on hold and now, like a phoenix from the ashes, has risen to once again grace us with their material - but can the psionic supplement, fully compatible with Dreamscarred Press' Psionics Unleashed material and made in association with these masters of the mind stand up to the incredibly high standard Alluria has set for themselves with the Cerulean Seas Campaign Setting?
Only one way to find out! This book kicks off with a flavorful introduction about the cycles of divine might, arcane power and psionic potential and then goes on about how this product was made and a set of basic terms one should understand when reading this book. Without any significant further ado, we are then introduced to new aquatic psionic races that might be added to a regular heavily aquatic campaign or used with the Cerulean Seas Campaign Setting. First in the array of new races would be the Amphian, a subtype of clownfish-like-looking merfolk that is renowned to be a race of gifted entertainers and scoundrels - they get either the wild talent psionc feat (if non-psionic class) or the psionic talent feat (if they choose a psionic class) at first level as well as fast swim speed, +2 to Cha and Dex and -2 to Str as well as the favored class option to get +1 power point when taking a level in the wilder class and a resistance to venoms. The Thalassic Asrai, a new type of medium feykith, get either the wild talent psionc feat (if non-psionic class) or the psionic talent feat (if they choose a psionic class), are boneless and thus get +2 to acrobatics and escape artist checks as well as +1 to CMD & CMB, +2 Dex and Wis, -2 Con, can get a power point instead of hp or skills when classing in a psionic class, deal cold damage with their natural attacks and swiftly die when brought out of the water. They also gte +2 to checks to overcome psionic resistance instead of feykith magic.
The Melusine are an interesting race that sprang from the nommo and can be considered a psionically changed race that is heavily influenced by its rigid caste system and the fact that beings from diverse castes produce offspring belonging to certain caste combinations, enforcing a complex structure that is interesting to explore in game. Rules-wise, these beings get +2 Con and +2 Int, -2 Cha, are of the merfolk subtype, get 40 ft swim speed, darkvision 60 ft., light sensitivity, suffocate out of the water, get a +2 to Perception due to compound eyes, get either the wild talent psionc feat (if non-psionic class) or the psionic talent feat (if they choose a psionic class), can get a power point as a favored class option when leveling in a psionic class. They are also acclimated to extreme depths, meaning they suffer at low depths of 300 ft. from being pressure sensitive and can negate damage they receive as an immediate action by burning power points, ignoring 2 points of damage for each power point spent.
Speaking of interesting races: The Merkoth, is a weird merfolk indeed, ending in multiple, octopus-like tentacles. They get +2 Dex and Int, but -2 Cha, have a normal swim speed, get either the wild talent psionc feat (if non-psionic class) or the psionic talent feat (if they choose a psionic class), can cast detect psionics and concealing amphora 1/day as a psi-like ability - well, and they have tentacles, enabling them to hold up to 4 items ready (but not use them) to be retrieved as a swift action and also granting them +4 to CMB when trying to grapple. Oh, and they have a unique peculiar behavior as well: They hate their own race, trying their very best to avoid each other as often as possible, even having their young brought up by foster parents and actually get sickened without a save when within 30 ft of another being of their race. Now if that is not story-telling gold!
The reptilian-headed Benthic Naga are next on the list. They get +2 to Dex and Wis, -2 to Cha, belong to the anthromorph subtype, get +1 natural armor to AC, get either the wild talent psionc feat (if non-psionic class) or the psionic talent feat (if they choose a psionic class), are immune to mind-reading and get +2 to saves vs. enchantment and poison as well as a mildly poisonous bite. The DC of latter scales with the character's level, ensuring prolonged usefulness. The final new race is actually one you might recall from another Alluria publication, namely the Remarkable Races Compendium. The Zef, originally parasites that have taken over the collectives of a form of snail-like humanoids and guided them benevolently, granting them sentience. The small snail-people are presented here in a psionc variant that gets +2 Int, +2 Wis, -2 Str, 20 ft swim speed, can choose a knowledge skill as a class skill at first level due to their inborn knowledge and also feature a protective shell in which they can retreat. If you remember the campaign setting, you might recall the eclectic options to play half-breeds of a wide variety of races and here we also get seafolk/amphian, seafolk/melusine and seafolk/benthic naga crossbreeds. It should also be mentioned that the chapter includes tables that comprehensively list all racial modifiers of the new races, tables to determine random height and length, age-tables for starting age and age effects as well as information on racial buoyancy and depth tolerance, both in the respective racial entries and in the table - great service and concise presentation there!
After that we are introduced to Alluria Publishing's take on the psionic classes released so far in the context of underwater adventuring, providing easy to implement conversion advice ranging from cosmetic remodeling to some minor crunchy modifications before we delve into the new base-class, the Aquanaut. The Aquanaut gets d10 HD, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons, light and medium armor, shields and all natural weapons they have, but more on that one later. The Aquanauts also gets full BAB, good fort and will-saves, up to a total of 74 power points and can learn powers of up to 4th level. Sounds like a martial class? Yes and no, for the Aquanaut is so much more than that! The Aquanaut starts off with something called Phylum and gains an additional phylum at fifth level and every 4 levels thereafter, gaining an empathy with creatures associated with her phylum - examples would be Cnidarians, Crustaceans, Mammals etc. Now, the Aquanaut foregoes membership of her original race, becoming essentially a race of her own she shares with other members of the class (Aquanaut). She also becomes an inherently magical being that increases her natural AC, makes her resistant to pressure and means that she counts as magical for means of attacks. Can you see where this is going? The Aquanaut is actually evolving her own body, learning to change her body with her very own brand of mutations, to which quite some space is devoted: Starting by explaining the basic [armor], [extra arm] and[shell]-descriptors of the introduced mutations, we are then presented with phyla and their associated mutations: 6 phylums are detailed, each coming with a plethora of these new mutations - from root-like tendrils, to anchor yourself, coral-style to surfaces to extruding poisonous slime or growing a coral head, from poisonous and shootable spines to fins to crab legs, chitin skin, additional tentacles, lobster claws to an otter's keen sense of smell, a sonar, up to the option to change colors and thus speak the cephalite language and gain a stealth bonus, extrude octopus ink or being able to grow, puffer-fish style - or grow a turtle or nautilus shell: Not only are the respective options sheer genius in their iconicity, they also are so rock-.solid and balanced in their rules-implementation that I can do naught but utter the utmost praise for this class: Even in the reign of excellent PFRPG-classes, the Aquanaut stands out and surpasses all regular Cerulean Seas-classes, being on par with my favorite pathfinder-classes ever. The best new base class I've read so far in 2012! Take heed, designers - this is how it's done!
Next up are the regular psionic PrCs and how they can be changed to fit in an undersea environment and goes on to provide us with two new PrCs - the 10 level Current Adept (d6, 2+Int skills, 1/2 BAB, 1/2 will-save, 8 levels of power progression) are beings that can manipulate water to work telekinetic style and gain vast speed enhancements as well as the option to create impassable water and change water temperature - interesting casting battlefield control/mobility class. The second class, is the 5-level shark incarnate, a feral melee PrC for psychic warriors that gets d10, 4+Int skills per level, full BAB, good fort and ref-saves, only gains an additional 9 power points and 3 levels of power progression, but gets special enhancements options to make truly devastating bites and can be considered a fearsome foe indeed: The shark incarnate can add double the str-mod to attacks when blood is in the water or an enemy is almost dead and can get additional attacks to follow up on critical hits, may reroll class levels saves and add his strength modifier on the rerolls. Worse, once the shark has destroyed a foe, he gets temporal life-force from cannibalizing. The capstone is also cool, offering the option to treat power points as hit points on a one-for-one-basis if the shark incarnate would otherwise be dropped below 0 Hp. Both PrCs are absolutely neat, though, unsurprisingly, they are "only" excellent, not a class of its own like the Aquanaut base-class.
The pdf also provides us with 23 new feats, including e.g. the option to craft mystic starfish (!!!) to gaining ectoplasmic ink to the option to gain a hypnotic angler-fish style gaze or even turn to water to 1/day automatically escape a grapple or change your naga venom to one that deals wis-damage that makes susceptible to your psionic attacks. You could also form psionic quills of ectoplasm while focused, granting you access to armor spikes in any armor or even unarmored. Beyond that, we are also introduced to a variety of psionic powers and the careful consideration towards environmental factors we've seen in Cerulean Seas - e.g. the fact that cold energy effects may result in ice-crystals, but only up to a certain depths. It's small bits and pieces that make the difference between a good setting and a stellar one - attention to detail and internally consistent logic. We also get a complete powers-list for the new Aquanaut-class, including highlighted and altered aquanaut powers. This care is extended towards the psion and wilder as well as the psychic warrior class, before we delve right into the selection of new powers.
Oh BOY! Aqueous Coalescence thickens the water around you, halving enemy movement and hampering attacks and damage as well as preventing ranged attacks. Better yet - the power also effects buoyancy and can be dissipated by currents. You'll see powers like this more often in the chapter than not - i.e. powers that not only offer interesting tactical options, but also exhibit a true mastery of psionic rules (the Dreamscarred press connection is evident) as well as taking the stellar rules from the Cerulean Seas Campaign Setting into account, merging both in an accomplishment of great design. Whta I mean with this rather cryptic wording is that these powers take three-dimensional fighting, buoyancy, floating ice, etc. into account, create devastating vortexes, use atomic agitation to create superheated blasts of water, etc. into account.
Not even here does the pdf stop, though, and instead it provides us with 2 new item classes, the mystic starfish and the ioun bubble, as well as 6 new psionic items and a new psionic material. If you've read the Cerulean Seas Campaign Setting, you'll distinctly remember the racial perspectives on the setting's history and the grand panoply their combined perspective offers - just like the setting, this pdf provides a chapter of fluff in this vein, containing famous members, adventure hooks and myths galore, enough to fill a wide variety of adventures and campaigns. It should be noted that the perspectives on non-player races have not been ignored - we also get to know at least a bit about the psionic jellyfish called medusians and similar NPC-races.
The final large chapter provides us with a bestiary in true Alluria Publishing-style - i.e. with easily identifiable creature-glyphs and gorgeous full-color artworks for every creature. We are introduced to the golden-scaled Apsara merfolk, the enigmatic Arichteuthian shapers, to calcified skeletons and brain corals that kill their victims and make them their calcified skeleton slaves, to tiny, yet deadly brain crabs, the demonic and powerful Jormungandi, to a new almost cthulhoid-looking species of song dragon, to nightmare-inducing eels, frogs on whose backs brill grows to the non-player castes of the Melusine to disturbing mindshrimp swarms, to translucent, glowing deep sea octopi and psionic slurgs, host creatures for the Zef and their racial blood foes, the Zoh, - the bestiray is of a stunning quality and many of the artworks herein would even stand out in Alluria's excellent oevre.
In order to make navigation easier, we get an appendix with aquatic psionic monsters released so far by CR, a pronunciation guide, an index of tables, an index for art and 2 pages of cardstock minis.
Editing and formatting, I am happy to report, are up to the stellar quality Alluria left off with - I did not notice any glitches, top-notch! Layout is GORGEOUS and up to the highest standards conceivable, using the same awe-inspiring full-color blue-tinged loook as the campaign setting. Alluria Publishing's artwork was always stellar, but some pieces herein, be it the monsters, the chapter-introducing artworks or the Aquanaut blast the lids off of what to expect from a 3pp artwork-wise. Only rarely does one see so many awesome full-color artworks in one pdf. Impressive indeed! The pdf also comes fully bookmarked, with nested bookmarks, making navigation easy. The only formal point I could nag about is the lack of a printer-friendly version. Then again, if you do print this out, you'll want it in full color or even print from the get-go: The pdf is that pretty.
And best of all: The content is up to the visuals! Whether it is crunch or fluff, this pdf leaves nothing to be desired - much like the spell-adaption in Cerulean Seas, this pdf not only goes the extra mile, it goes an extra marathon and then some. Advertised as a psionic underseas sourcebook I at first considered the publisher's blurb speaking of "mastery of Psionic Unleashed and the Cerulean Seas Setting" sounding like hubris. It's not. It's the plain truth. I did not find one piece of content I'd consider off, not one single piece. Better yet, the pieces herein are not contend with working - they strive to be iconic.
They ooze heart's blood and passion. They provide innovative synergies and take the peculiarities of undersea adventuring into account. This pdf, much like the original Cerulean Seas Campaign Setting, is not content with being good, or very good - it strives to excel. And that shows. In every page and every idea. Let me spell it out: My expectations were insanely high. They were met and surpassed. My expectations, when this high, are almost universally disappointed. Instead, e.g. the Aquanaut should be considered a compulsory addition to ANY campaign featuring psionics and could, with some minor tweaking, work in regular settings as well. I only have one thing to ask for: Do we get Waves of Thought 2 with more support for the Aquanaut and additional support for Psionics Expanded: Advanced Psionics Guide? Please?
I forgot my verdict. It should come as no surprise: This book is a must for fans of psionics, of the Cerulean Seas setting and all those who felt even remotely intrigued by what I described here. This pdf is worth every cent of its asking price and I hope there'll be a print option. Final verdict: 5 stars + endzeitgeist seal of approval. Congratulations for the triumphant return -it comes with a bang!
Thank you for reading my ramblings!
Thank you for reading my ramblings!
Posted by Endzeitgeist at 4:12 AM
Today is a grand day for a reviewer like yours truly since I'm going to take a look at Frog God Games' new iteration of the granddaddy of all dungeons,
Today is a grand day for a reviewer like yours truly since I'm going to take a look at Frog God Games' new iteration of the granddaddy of all dungeons,
This pdf is 676 pages long, 1 page editorial, 2 pages ToC, 10 pages of thanks for kickstarter backers, 4 pages of SRD, 15 pages of space for character obituaries, 5 pages of advertisements,1 page front cover and 1 page back cover, leaving a total of 635 pages of content.
How does one review the third iteration of Rappan Athuk? Seriously. I asked myself this question for quite some time. Slumbering Tsar, the last monster-book by Frog God Games came in installments. Not so the granddaddy of dungeons, the so far highest grossing PFRPG-kickstarter and one of the highest funded RPG-products ever - Rappan Athuk starts off as this vast monster of content and here I am, at the point of writing this, after big-mouthed announcing that my review for this monster would be ready for Gencon. How am I to do this? In order to fully appreciate the book and quality-check the new content, I'd have to go through all of it and that's exactly what I'm planning to do. I initially thought about comparing it to its former two iterations, but with the review going to be as bloated and the limited use for people out there, I'll refrain from doing so. Since asking for mercy would be futile, I'll leave off for now with another wish: May Orcus look the other way, I once again open the pages that contain the most deadly dungeon I've had the pleasure of running in 3.X.
And how else to kick off such an epic milestone than with a tribute to the true legends among the RPG-designers like Arneson, Barker, Bledsaw, Gygax - touching and well-written. Speaking of well-written: If you know one of the older iterations of the dungeon, you'll know the legend of Rappan Athuk and have a warm (or clammy, if you're a player) feeling when reading the 66 rumors about the dungeon of graves. While an introduction on how to read the dungeon entries was expected, we also get a nice overview of all the levels and their names and then a 2-page side-view map, which makes it (relatively) easy for the DM to get how all the levels are connected. After that, we get into the first chapter, entitled "Wilderness Areas: Dying outside the dungeon". Now THAT's an announcement. Before I go on, I have another little thing to talk about: In the last two iterations of the dungeon, there were several monsters that are IP of certain wizards - when I recall such monsters being there, I'll try to comment on how they've been replaced.
Since from now on, I'll delve into massive SPOILER-territory and since this dungeon is probably the most epic you'll ever play in, I encourage players to skip to the conclusion (after about 3 metric tons of text).
Still here? If you're a player, you may incur the wrath of Orcus AND Tsathoggua by reading on. They watch us. They watch us all...
...Still here? Sure? All right, let's explore the area around Rappan Athuk! The chapter kicks off with the one ways to start old-schoolish wilderness-depictions - random encounters by area (And, again a map), thankfully also including non-hostile patrols - 5 of these general areas are presented. After that, we're introduced to the less savory individuals that haunt the area around Rappan Athuk. If you expect standard bandits, you'll be in for a surprise, though: What about a doppelganger rogue that not only comes with cronies, but also NPC-companions as a kind of party-anathema or a wizard that has enslaved a bunch of trolls? Not only are the respective bandits listed in their own entries, we also get encounter areas for PCs looking for some serious trouble/stamping out of the lawless beings: Care to take on the dragonmarsh's froghemoth, for example? Or PCs wanting to participate in a not particularly harmless fey festival? Other highlights include two mapped bandit-mini-dungeon, a fane with a dread prophecy, a sea-hag coven, a wrecked pirate ship and can purge a tribe of vicious bugbears from an (Also mapped) ruined fort and if the PCs are REALLY eager to die outside of Rappan Athuk, they can also try to invade the island home of the local wyrm...
And then, we get to the inverted-cross-shaped surface graveyard under which the dungeon rests - as well as a one page of grave-markers and the iconic entry to the dungeon: The very first trap is deadly and a potential TPK-machine - when I first ran my players through the first Rappan Athuk installment, they died here for the first time and knew that RA doesn't Screw around... In contrast to the other incarnations of the dungeon, we now also get two alternate, although also rather problematic entrance to Rappan Athuk - and deep levels of the dungeon to boot. However, the entrance is underwater, the caves are guarded by a kraken and at low levels, the PCs will probably die here - if they persevere and e.g. find the solution to a great puzzle, they might score the help of a neat ally - and the PCs can use ANY help they can get.
Another potential location from which to gain access to the legendary dungeon now rests atop a desolate ridge over the marshland and comes with a stellar artwork that immediately evokes a sense of almost lovecraftian foreboding - the cloister of the dread Frog God with two different cloisters and multiple levels of crypts and dungeons containing chthonic remains, dread intelligent killer frog swarms, old artifacts and challenges aplenty - creepy, unique in atmosphere and mood, the cloister of the Frog God would have made for a stellar adventure on its own, especially with the nice, player-friendly overview map: Here, though, it's just a precursor of the dread to come and a possible entrance to a sublevel (4A) of the dungeon of graves. But one thing remains before we delve into the dungeon of graves itself: Zelkor's Ferry, the small settlement and its immediate surroundings are detailed as well, including a nice old necromancer whose resurrection attempts may have some unforeseen consequences for the PCs subjected to theme - rules-wise an awesome throwback to the risks of returning to life.
But we've stalled long enough: Let's go through the dungeon, level by level. And yes, this review will probably be rather bloated and long... After passing the dread trap at the beginning, The PCs delve into the stinking, disgusting first level of Rappan Athuk and meet one of the place's iconic inhabitants - the slow, unkillable and truly dreadful Dung Monster (nicknamed "Dungy" by my players), which has probably slain A LOT of PCs. The level 1A, temple of the final sacrament, is another personal favorite of mine -accessible via more than one location, it features mocking, taunting inscriptions reflecting the challenges faced in this temple and PCs should beware - not only is the temple HARD, it also features an entrance to the dread bloodways, but more on these later. On Level 1B, the abandoned bastion, the PCs can encounter mist-filled alcoves containing strange and deadly connections to the otherworld as well as an organized force of goblins that will respond dynamically to incursions. Special mentioning also goes to the rather cool traps contained on this level. In direct contrast, the "Mouth of Doom" (level 1C), a mostly deserted and rather easy level makes for a new way to introduce characters to the rigors and dangers of Rappan Athuk - among the challenges and ideas on this level, most intriguing, at least to me, was the option to play at a rather neat divine slot machine and get some uncommon boons - or summon disaster! On the classic level two, insane madman Marthek still looms, but those familiar with the older installments will notice that Saracek the fallen, skeletal champion and dread adversary, has been upgraded to antipaladin in this iteration, making the undead menace even more deadly than his prior fighter/blackguard version. Of course, the third "boss" menace is also still here in the person of Ambro the Ogre.
The new area 2A will be hated by players - now, Rappan Athuk also has its teleporter-maze level. Yes. Teleporter Maze. Ouch. On the plus-side, the PCs can actually find a surface one-way teleport out of the dungeon. On the downside (for them) and to my everlasting glee, they actually have a chance to die by BUBBLES! Yes. Rappan Athuk can even kill you with friggin' bubbles! I love it. "How did your character die?" "Welll...ehh...he...was killed by bubbles." I HAVE to kill some PC off this way, I just have to! The Demon's Gullet, the sequel to the Mouth of Doom, also provides rather appropriate challenges (still being deadly, but not as bad as the main levels...) for low-level PCs and even features a wishing statue that could grant you your heart's desire - or swallow and suffocate you. Speaking of swallowing and related deaths - with level 3 and its eponymous warning of purple worms, the dungeon gets deadly. Prior to this level, Rappan Athuk is challenging - from here on out, it gets deadly as hell (or rather abyss) and this incarnation is no different - old favorites like the oracle are still present in this version of the dungeon and Scramge (now a rakshasa maharaja, btw.) and his assault should challenge the hardest of parties - unless they act smart indeed, this level WILL see the end of your PCs.
Speaking of the end of PCs - the warning "Don't go down the well" still applies - and level 3A, still features some of the deadliest, most sadistic encounters written - not to speak of this level's boss and his iron golem bodyguards. That's NOTHING, though, compared to the sick and deliciously evil traps that can be found on level 3B - here, the PCs can get into CR 20+ encounters. Several of them. E.g. Greater Stone Golems plus hasted regular stone golems. Or Stone Treants. Have I mentioned the ancient mummy lords guarding the creatures known as ravager spawns (CR 20), gibbering orbs (CR 27) and then, the legendary Ravager, a CR 30 beast that could very well be a spawn of Rovagug. Compared to the apocalyptic dread of level 3B, 3C, the third of the "beginner's levels" of RA feels almost tame - an enclave of healers wanted to once flush out the threat of Orcus. Now, though, only a bleak disease-ridden complex populated by vermin and worse remains. Especially the fountain of pestilence, which generates demons, rats etc. will make for a cool encounter indeed also thanks to the disturbing artwork that portrays it.
It is in level 4 that the PCs will face off with the main quest of Rappan Athuk for the first time - since the ultimate goal (and who are we kidding - rather futile) is to kill Orcus, it is here that the PCs will have to invade the first temple of Orcus and get a sense of the depravity and things to come - and face challenges that will have them sweat blood and tears: The NPCs make use of the Disciple and Zealot of Orcus Prestige Classes (more on those MUCH later), making the adversaries more deadly. Max the intelligent and potentially benevolent (at least as far as RA goes...)otyugh also makes a return. How challenging is the boss encounter? Well, the text tells the DM to buy the players a drink if they prevail and indeed, the finale is lethal...though in the context of the dungeon, it's just the beginning. The Basilisk Caverns (level 4A) include a potential dwarven cohort, the eponymous basilisk(s), a team of lethal goblin adventurers and even a mated pair of vampire/succubus with a rather evil trick up their sleeves... Level 4B, the "Gut" is essentially not a regular level, but a vast tunnel with several sub-sections that links the "beginner's dungeon" (understand that "beginner" means NOT easy) with the main-levels of Rappan Athuk - via Zombie stables, a subterranean inn run by a mongrelman, a colony of plantoids and more foes - including a Tiefling fighter with a rather interesting two-weapon build.
Level 5 provides us with the lair of Banth, wicked transmuter and his creations. Here, players can recruit further allies (or replenish their ranks after suffering losses) with two characters and especially rangers and druids might have a chance to shine/get nice companions in this level. A stream of lava runs through level 5A, the prison of time, in which time elementals guard the so-called Dark Thelaroi are contained - I look forward to reading more about these weird beings in future adventures. In level 5B, "Aladdin's Lament", some problematic, genie-themed items can be recovered - if the PCs manage to survive e.g. the ingenious and awesome trap that will make them feel like frogs in a blender. The level also utilizes some rather neat inscriptions to set the mood. Level 6 has always been one of my player's hate-levels - the Maze not only contains a storm giant ghost and the remains of the legendary titan Ereg-Tal, but also comes with 10 (!!!) sample mazes for your perusal - making sure that PCs will hate these labyrinthine corridors. Level 6A once featured a mind flayer in a gorgeous illustration - unfortunately, with the IP-problems, we only get the intellect devourer-substitution and no new illustration to depict the aberration. The bosses of the level, 3 ancient, well-equipped trolls and the spider/human hybrid, the Spider Queen, also make this level a nice challenge.
Level 7, the aptly-named gates of hell, has also been redesigned: While the cerberus-like 3-headed hell-hound being still here, we also get a great substitution of the mind-flayers and giths that once populated this level in the guise of encephalon gorgers and morlocks - a much better r3eplacement for illithids, though I still bemoan the absence of the good ol' squid-heads. In Level 7A, the halls of the phase minotaur king, the PCs not only will have to defeat this legendary minotaur and navigate even more deadly labyrinths, they will also have to deal with more lethal goblins from the subterranean city of greenskins and a crimson death as well as water weirds in their native elements... Level 8 contains the "Tomb of the Evil King", a breather for PCs - at least partially - the vast amounts of cave scorpions, the river flowing through the level and the eye of the deep (which replaces a beholder) still make this a challenge, as does the option to find and unleash a banshee, but generally, this level feels less lethal than others. Level 8A, the tomb of the beacon, on the other hand is one of my favorites: This vast level set in a primarily vertical cave features not only a waterfall, antimagic fields and a side-view map, but also offers PCs the chance to meet the utterly disturbing Blood Orchids and even form an alliance with flumphs! Come on, who doesn't like flumphs? The new level 8B contains not only a neat subterranean jungle, but also has the chance for the PCs to find evidence of a now extinct breed of intelligent apes and utilize their leftovers: Turns out the mummified monkey dung is explosive and that among other treasures, the PCs can find a banana of holding! Now that is cool!
And honestly, the PCs will need all the potential tools they can get their hands on, for starting with level 9, things start to get truly painful: The second temple of Orcus awaits and its caretaker, Gudmund, has a vital key the PCs will need. Unfortunately for them, the disciple of Orcus is not exactly a nice fellow and the demon-enhanced showdown will challenge your PCs to the breaking point - especially if you're a sadistic DM like me - there's a maze with a bunch of teleporters on this level and making a running dash for the area allows your NPCs e.g. time to rebuff - just as a tip in case players first manage to breach the temple's defenses and seem like they're winning. ;) Level 9A, the Hydra's Lair, contains one of the truly evil dick-moves of this dungeon: Extremely well-hidden, there's a tomb of a CR 26 death knight AND a CR 27 Demilich. When compared to these "bonus-bosses" of epic power, the normal foes like huge groups of trolls, a pair of umbral dragons and a 12-headed Pyrohydra guarding the mithril gates leading to level 11 feel almost easy. Until you recall and experience their power that is. Hope that your PCs are smart enough to let the two ancient beings lie... Level 9B and 9C make up the two levels of the well of Agamemnon and while the first level is not too hard, the whirlpool the PCs will have to brave to access the latter level will test their luck and ingeniousness, a good precursor for the difficulty that awaits the PCs in the person of Agamemnon, the now-corrupted vampire archwizard and his groaning spirit-brides.
Level 9D are the bloodways, first introduced in Rappan Athuk Reloaded: Taking the trope from the classic "Desert of Desolation"-set, the bloodways are a labyrinth filled with bloody, red mist that obscures vision, are almost impossible to truly navigate and make up 4 (!!!) levels of dungeon - the bloodways are flavorful and confusing, though their boss, Duke Aerim the bloodwraith, feels rather like a bit weak for the level. That being said, the confusing and lengthy nature of the Bloodways makes it still a disturbing challenge and perhaps one of the hardest levels - and there are the forgotten tombs, where undead mummy-priests and even a marilith awaits, so enough potential for death and mayhem here. Let's hope that by the time PCs reach level 10, the aptly-named Lava Pit, they have some option to make themselves immune to fire, otherwise the local salamander-population under the command of CR 28 noble salamander sorceror Irtuk will annihilate the PCs. Who are we kidding? Even if they are prepared, Irtuk and his elemental creatures will constitute a challenge that could break all but the most experienced players - and let's hope that their curiosity doesn't kill them - there's essentially a nice "story-kill" also possible on this level. Level 10A, the "Great Cavern" is appropriately-named - with another total of 4 pages of maps depicting both an overview as well as the respective sites. Among the creatures herein, the PCs can find the "Mother of all Purple Worms", two legendary orcus-mummies, negotiate with an insanely powerful lich who actually is a foe of Orcus, navigate a colony of fungus people and find another set of mithral gates and even a vein of gold! In level 10B, the goblin outpost features some rather interesting green-skins - armed to the teeth, having multiple class-levels and teamwork powers, they and their unit training should make the PCs reconsider hard any notion of underestimating goblins and provide them with a taste of the things to come.
In level 10C, the Talon of Orcus, another outpost of the Orcus-worshippers, has also a rather large contingent of deadly foes and overshadows the goblins from the prior level - the Seer of Orcus, special stone golems etc. won't make things easier for the PCs and the broken, MPD-afflicted adventurer they can rescue may yet succumb to the traumas he had to endure - with potentially fatal consequences, but also some very fun roleplaying potential. On level 11, the PCs can encounter, among other beings, a neothelid (which replaces a beholder, if my memory serves me correctly) as well as find the statue of a high priestess struck by a divine curse - greed and risk/reward ratios of groups are put to the test here, though I always considered it a pity that per se no way to free the priestess has been included. Oh, have I mentioned the mithral vein? Level 11A not only features the gates to the subterranean city of goblins, but also perhaps the hardest group of NPCs in the "rival adventurer"-style encountered so far with non only a hall of 40 wraiths at their beck and call, a group of high-level vampires will bleed the PC's resources further dry. Wait, you say: Goblin City? Yes, one of the largest levels of Rappan Athuk is the meticulously detailed Goblin City of Greznek in level 12A - a roleplaying town that comes with its own attitude-adjustment sidebox and the options for starved adventurers to not only stock up, but actually do some trading and even side-questing, making this city a great alternative and break from all the dungeon crawling. Level 12 contains a whole array of potential cohorts and the reason is rather evident by its title: The Slave Dens contain all those unfortunate enough to have been caught by the servants of Orcus or the goblins and it is from here, if anywhere, that the PCs will need to stage their escape attempt should they get caught alive by anyone. Worse for the PCs, two elite priests, their mohrgs and their option to summon a balor also are a part of the fun things they can encounter this level. Another cool break from standard dungeon crawling would be level 12B, Tiamat's Puzzle, in which the PCs do explore a dungeon, yes, but one focused very strongly on riddle-solving and with a different theme. It is here the PCs may find a potent sword, which remains cursed for now - until they find the parent-sword in the vermin-themed level 12C, that is. This level is more about mass than threat and probably will have the PCs feel a surge of power, which is ok, I guess -especially since the giant amphisbaena anaconda is waiting for worn-down, overconfident PCs...
Level 13 houses a dread ghost antipaladin - and options to die. Hard. By becoming cursed, by facing a mirror duplicate and by failing to properly navigate the portal on this level, for it is here that the only point of access to the final level can be found. But we'll return to examine that later - after we've checked out the Goblin Barracks and the military commander of the greenskins (13A), followed the winding Dark River (13B) to Zombieland (13C). Where, bingo, a LOT of zombies wait. To be chopped to pieces. That's fine, let the PCs smash through whole armies of them and find a way to access the "Lost Levels" as soon as they are released. As soon as the PCs are overconfident enough, they can find a wall of force - if they bash it down, they'll have fun with 2 CR20+ liches and the dread evil artifact, the Zombiestone of Karsh. Now if you're familiar with the classic mythology of demon-princes, you may not be surprised to find that the defense of the lowest of the three temples of Orcus falls to not only extremely powerful beings, but actually to a combination of demons, undead and disciples as well as Maphistal, a demon lord of his own right. If the PCs manage to clean this temple as well, they might actually have a teeny-tiny sliver of a chance against the Demon Prince of Undead. Level 14A houses a tragedy - it is here that the defeated army of Tsar retreated to and that a fallen angel and a dwarven undead abomination still lead an army of hundreds (literally, there are that many) undead in their congregation, guarding level 14B, aptly titled "The Grand Cornu of Orcus" - here, the high-priest of the demon-lord of the undead makes his final stand, here his shadow-advisor Pagonis, his Kyton torture-master, his denizen of leng librarian Ashfallen and his personal, powerful undead servants wait and work tirelessly for the detriment of all that is good and holy and it is here that the epic battle against this stain upon the planet will reach its penultimate climax- at least, that's what one would think until one sees the "Architect's Workshop" (level 14C) - where legendary planar architect Glazerel waits alongside his anima engine, where PCs can be hurtled to seemingly prehistoric times, a strange mercane-bar tended by valkyries, awaken stranded in a Kyton-hospital (Silent Hill is calling...), travel to a strange garden eden, battle an undead gold dragon and visit a plateau that might very well be adjacent to Leng itself - the planar chaos and dimensional sidetreks are plain awesome and make this my favorite new level of the dungeon.
Speaking of which: Only one to go: Level 15. The Den of the Master. When the PCs, covered in their own blood and naked, pop up in this dimension, they are in for an immediate blasphemy for fun and giggles, continuing blasts of evil energy and can kiss regaining clerical magic goodbye. Apart from highest echelon demons, we also get a selection of Orcus' most powerful level 20 allies as well as..well. Orcus' friggin' avatar. CR 35. The PCs better be running for that teleporter circle to et as fast away as possible from the Demon Prince. Though, of course, if they prevail, Orcus is gone for 666 years and their feat will be sung of in legends forevermore...
The pdf also contains stats for all new monsters, an appendix with the "Disciple of Orcus"-archetype, the Archwizard and Zealot of Orcus-PrCs, a total of 38 new magic items (of which many are artifacts), an appendix detailing the presumed default gods of the Necro/FrogGod-verse, illustrated pregens for level 1 and 6 of all CORE-classes, but not of the APG/UM/UC-classes, a total of 37 pages of battle-maps as well as the aforementioned obituary-sheets, which imho will see a lot of use...
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any significant glitches and the scarce minor formatting glitch did not detract from my enjoyment of this mega-dungeon. Layout adheres to FGG's two-column b/w-standard and the most iconic of the b/w-artworks have been re-used from the previous two iterations. It should be known, though, that we also get a vast slew of new pieces of art of a comparably stellar quality. One major upside since the latest incarnation of Rappan Athuk is that all encounters feature directly the CR-ratings for the respective areas, which is a huge help, as is the decision to include major statblocks where they are needed in the dungeon - layout wise, especially in direct comparison, this version of Rappan Athuk first mops the floor with its predecessors and then gobbles up the remains. The pdf has also been lovingly bookmarked, enabling easy navigation in this monster.
Rappan Athuk is perhaps the best dungeon released for 3.X. In my opinion, it's the best dungeon-centric module for the system. However, it had its weaknesses: While the initial levels had been detailed to the nth degree, the final levels felt a bit more abrupt and less imaginative. Another weakness was that the module(s) did not offer anything for low-level PCs to do. And finally, the wilderness was not as detailed as I would have liked it to be. These three weaknesses have been purged in the PFRPG-iteration - with the new low-level dungeon, PCs can suffer from 1st level on. The new wilderness-areas and 0-level entry-levels to the dungeon of graves are glorious. The sideview map means I don't need a spreadsheet of connections between areas to navigate the dungeon. The Frog God's Cloister would have made for an awesome module in itself. And the bonus-content keeps on coming: Even when compared with the reloaded version, the latest iteration feels vastly superior - minor ties to Tsar and the upcoming Sword of Air (which are always unobtrusive and don't require the ownership of either), top-notch new levels at the higher levels of the dungeon, more deadly foes, more artifacts and even cool utilizations of PFRPG-rules - Plain awesome all around.
Now is there something I did not enjoy as much? Well, yes. I'm a huge fan of the APG-classes and you'll find no alchemist, no inquisitor, no magus etc. here (though witches are there). I would have enjoyed more support for them. The replacements of IP-protected monsters make sense and work well in the context of the dungeon and serve to mostly enrich their environments, not detract from them. (Though I still miss mindflayers...)
So. After writing this review for x hours, reading the whole monster thrice, I can say I look forward to my kickstarter-exclusive level and the bonus modules as well as the player's guide, all of which will also be reviewed in due time by yours truly. For now, I'll have to give my final verdict and even if my copy of Slumbering Tsar wasn't growling at me from my bookshelf, I couldn't rate this any lower than the full 5 Rudii + endzeitgeist seal of approval - this could literally be all the deadly, imaginative old-school dungeon-goodness you'll ever need.
As always, thank you for reading my ramblings,
Posted by Endzeitgeist at 7:33 PM