today I'll take a look at
Adventure Quarterly #3
The latest installment of Rite Publishing’s Adventure-based magazine is 69 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of 62 pages of content, so let’s take a look inside, shall we?
The editorial of Robert N. Emerson sets the tone for this issue, for the modules herein ask interesting questions, but more on that later.
The first module herein would be Alex Putnam’s “Red Leaves Enigma” set in the small town of Morford.
But before I divulge any further information, be aware that from here on out reign the SPOILERS. Potential players should skip to the conclusion, especially since this is a mystery module.
All right, still here? The PCs are invited to the fully (via dundjinni) cartographed Morford Academy to share adventuring stories and dine with the headmaster of the place – it is here that the module starts being interesting: Kicking off with a variety of individuals, there are quite a few dramatis personae who could work as red herrings allies etc. – best of all, we get a short run-down of their personal relations, what they know etc., somewhat similar and akin to RSP’S short fluffy NPc-summaries. As almost always when adventurers dine, something goes awry, though – as the feast runs its course, a conjuration accident seems to have happened in the basement and the school is, in spite of the vehement protest of the dignitary (per default, a Questor of Questhaven), put on lockdown: Wards up, clockwork soldiers ready. It’s up to the PCs and arcanists to find out what truly happened. When the first woman is found sedated with poison and drained of a part of her blood, the trail of clues thickens. In the basement, the vial containing the poison as well as a broken phial of blood can be found, suggesting that the culprit did not directly consume the drained blood. Via spontaneous traps and close calls, the PCs will slowly but surely be led towards the labs and there, hopefully, manage to walk a gauntlet of animated dolls and soulbound dolls to find the unwilling culprit of the crimes – a construct called a lutakophasm.
Born from Professor Asantte’s desire for a prolonged live, this construct is a terrible crime indeed, for in order to transfer life rather than create a semblance of it, the professor has resorted to the sacrifice of innocents. During the last rite that should have transferred his spirit into the construct, though, something went awry: A spasm has the result of only imparting fragments of Assante’s mind into the construct and instead binding the spirit of the sacrificial victim to the created being. Confused and knowing about the imminent fate, the construct slew Asantte and has been trying to exist since: As the ritual was flawed, it needs blood as an alchemical catalyst to properly work and while it did resort to animals as long as possible, did not kill her drain-victim(s), even though it clearly could have. Now what to do with the strange soul-amalgam? Can and should the being be destroyed, even though it acted as it did to keep mobile, to avoid the fate of being eternally imprisoned, aware but immobile and unable to communicate in a lifeless body? All the clues are there and at the end of the module, if run properly, the PCs as well as the players should ask themselves some questions about morality and what makes us human, what makes us sentient. All in all, a great module that not only provides a nice backdrop and interesting characters, but also offers some food for thought. However, I honestly would have liked a more complex set of sample clues – while sandboxy and with all the NPCs extremely open for DM-development, this module might take a bit more preparation and experience to pull off than many others, but the result should be satisfying indeed.
The second module, by Matt Banach, would then be “Dream Harvest” and oh boy, let me AGAIN call SPOILERS at the top of my lungs. Players, SKIP this one. You want to. The adventure kicks off when a distraught woman comes running in the PC’s way and pleads them to save her son, Jake, who is in the process of being killed by a nightmare, tossing, turning and convulsing in his sleep. When they reach the boy, the virulent nightmare seems to swallow the PCs ina weird vortex, drawing them inside the dreams of the young boy. They awake trapped in webs in a cavern, full of spider swarms scuttling over their bodies and hungry large spiders – from there, the weirdness has just begun: Being set in dream, dying usually would wake the PCs up, but not so here: If PCs perish, they are resurrected at somewhat zombified-looking dream-ghosts, adding yet another disturbing element to the dream. Once the spiders and their cobwebs have been defeated, clumps of web will form a humanoid shape, beseeching them to find the bones – and thus, the PCs set off through a tunnel reminiscent of veins punctured by weird growths, where they will have to contend with an entourage of an infinite horde of passing ghouls on the exodus to another place – the morphic gravity of dream could make for a great tool here and essentially, this encounter can pan out in varying ways, with PCs hopefully being smart and not picking a fight…
The next scene of the surreal journey brings the PCs to a dinner-scene, again providing details and symbols as clues to what is truly happening. On the more immediate side, the orcs seem to have completed their dinner and the skeleton of the mega-raptor they consumed joins them in their attack on the PCs. In order to progress, the PCs (thankfully with a direct hint), will need to dig a certain picture of graves. Hopefully, by now they also realize that there’s a sense of urgency: A blood-filled hourglass, slowly dripping away their lives should provide a good hint – either 2 minutes or half an hour: Not much time to survive. Being sucked into the picture they dug, the PCs emerge, rising from their very own graves, having to deal with a scarecrow in the aftermath that has a very peculiar weakness. There, the PCs may finally dig up Jack’s bones and talk to him: Here, the full horror and symbols should come crashing down on the PCs – there never was a boy called Jack, he was a fellow adventurer trapped in dream by an insidious plant called xtabay vines. The insidious flora lulls you into sleep and then proceeds to consume your body. The whole adventure so far was Jack interrupting the pleasant stupor the vines had spun for the PCs. Those who died here, have been consumed by the vines and their whole journey downwards was actually upwards towards consciousness. In order to wake up, they will have to defeat the dream-avatar of the vines, a hangman-tree. Now this would be no mean feat, but things are worse: Time has caught up with the dream and the PCs are devoured by the vines – fast. Starting the encounter with 2d4 Con damage and getting 1d2 more per round should prove to make this encounter DEADLY. It is also extremely cool that PCs can wake up via will-saves by now (with bonuses depending on actions, fight the vines in the real world and be sent back to dream with their pollen. A climactic battle in two worlds – awesome! Once the vines have met their end, the dream-ghost of Jack might lead the perished PCs to further quests in dream or have them remain to be resurrected, if needed. Matt Banach knows dream, being one of the brilliant minds behind the “Faces ofthe Tarnished Souk”-series and if this level of quality is what we can expect from his upcoming novel kickstarter, I’m looking forward to it. Why? Because this module is one of the best I’ve read in quite a while: Iconic, challenging and smart, full of awesome ideas and tips for the DM to convey the unique atmosphere of the module, this alone is worth this issue of AQ’s asking price. It’s that good. Can we have an adventure-anthology in set in the realm of dreams? Please?
The third module, “Sealing the Vault” by Michael Welham is more straightforward than the first two: When a farmer, enhanced by the power of an artifact-level evil axe tries to murder a local noble things look dire – worse, even, that the evil weapon tries to teleport away and take over the next peasant until stopped. The arrival of an iron golem, who only repeats “The vault has been breached” further complicates things. Via the golem and some research, the Pcs should stumble upon an obscure piece of lore regarding the past of one of their ancestors: Said ancestor was part of an order that managed to seal away evil outsiders, curses and deadly, possessed weaponry in a vault. In order to stop the leaking of these items and the resulting dire consequences, the PCs will have to travel to the vault and reseal it. No mean feat, especially since the traps in the vault are deadly and the place is crawling with deadly aware arcanas, outsiders and possessed weaponry. A deadly dungeon crawl with a cool theme, since the PCs ideally prevent further damage to the vault’s engine and manage to reseal the place by repairing the legendary machinery that protected this place for centuries. Or is destruction of the items and beings, potentially setting evil spirits free, the more prudent option?
Creighton Broadhurst’s company Raging Swan Press is known for the various extremely useful (and critically acclaimed) DM-aids that provide details, details, details to your game and his contribution this issue actually provides us with 3 mini-dungeon-dressings. We get the physical stats for barrels, keys and sconces as well as a table per item-catgeory containing 20 different sample appearances. Very cool, though honestly, I wished each of the 3 useful entries was a full-blown supplement. Still, an extremely useful contribution!
Now Rite Publishing’s mastermind Steven D. Russell also provides us with a short article and one I consider actually useful: Motivations for adventuring parties to stick together. Having once had the pleasure of being too successful at corrupting my PCs and subsequently running essentially 4 parallel campaigns where everyone plotted against everyone else, I can get behind the usefulness of such an article. Maybe in the future, we’ll get some kind of “group-traits” that actually grant bonuses? Would be nice to counteract alignment-disputes etc.
Editing and formatting this time around are top-notch: I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to RiP’s 2-column standard and it is here that I’d like to comment on the maps: I never cease to be amazed at the level of detail Eric Blische managed to squeeze from dundjinni as well as from the sheer amount of maps we get. Speaking of maps: We also get them as separate .png-files, though I wished the respective maps would be slightly bigger or collated on one page – as provided, you waste a lot of paper when printing them out, since there’s only one map per .png. This remains my only gripe with the maps, though. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks, making navigation easy.
The third module in this collection is very good, the first is excellent even – but let me say that Matt Banach has taken the awesome cake with his adventure. This one alone would justify the asking price. It’s smart, clever and simply brilliant. I don’t find myself really itching to run many adventures any more, but this one did the trick. Innovative, full of details, creepy, tragic even, this module should be considered a must-have purchase and almost makes me feel bad for praising it so much, since the other two are excellent as well. At first, I admit to being a bit disappointed that Ruins Perilous Level 2 was not part of this compilation, but as soon as I started reading these modules, I started to grin. Ladies and gentlemen, this issue of AQ mops the floor with its two predecessors, providing us 3 high-class, superb modules that can be considered top-notch. With the notable exception of the afore-mentioned issue with all maps coming in separate pages, I have nothing to complain here. A top-notch offering and in spite of this gripe, still worth full 5 stars + seal of approval, especially due to Matt Banach’s superb module. We need more of these!