Sunday, January 4, 2009

Old Rock Tower (Unicorn Rampant Publishing)

If you have read my other reviews, you will know that I was not a big fan of UPR’s first foray into 4e. But I figured they had had 6 months more to learn and understand the system, so I decided anyway to check out their new adventure. I cannot emphasize enough what a stupid decision that was. Once again I feel ripped off. Old Rock Tower is a very straight forward adventure, where the heroes head to an ancient wizard tower, now overrun by undead and other assorted monsters. Oh, and dire chickens… Wait. What? Yep, I said dire chickens. The Adventure is full of editing errors and poor (yeah, I know, who am I to talk) English. Monsters are only listed by their page number in the MM, and even that is often forgotten. This is a GSL thing I guess (and thus not URP’s fault), but insanely annoying. The maps are at best described as a strain on the eyes to look at. Out of the few monsters created for the adventure, they manage to screw up the most important one. Also, in the final battle room, there is this gem: “The altar is enchanted with an unhallow spell, with a bane effect for any who do not worship evil powers (DC 14 Will save or -1 to attack rolls and -1 to fear saves for 5 minutes)”. Needless to say, stuff like that doesn’t improve help the general impression, which is a extremely straightforward adventure with boring combats and encounters, boring traps, no skill challenges and no role-playing opportunities.

DCC58 The Forgotten Portal (Goodman Games)

The latest from Goodman Games is as far as I know, the first adventure written for 4e. The previous DCC’s were all written for 3.5, and then converted. Let me start by saying, it shows. They still like using high level elites and solos a lot, but now, they are placed in an interesting environment or added a twist that will make the encounters so much better. For example there is a solo croc that looks quite boring and slightly underpowered, but due to its tactics of dragging victims underwater, it should prove for a very interesting fight. There is also a fight with a T-rex on a huge pile of ever-moving bones that looks like it will be tremendous fun (as in, dangerous for the heroes). The areas are also much bigger, giving the players room to move around and do stuff. No more 10X10 rooms and encounters in 5 foot wide passages. The adventure goes as follows: Almost by accident, the heroes are drawn to a cursed village located on an 1800’ tall plateau in the middle of the jungle. They set out to find the high priest of the village in order to stop his reign of terror and bloody sacrifices, but instead find themselves having to complete 9 ancient trials, mirroring those a local hero had to endure in ancient times. The endgame (pun intended, you will get it when you read the adventure) is a twist, where the heroes will most likely upset an already fragile balance in place in the area, setting things up for a sequel. The Aztecan theme permeates the adventure and there is a lot of lore to assimilate and use both as background info, but also as key parts of the adventure. This is by far the best 4e adventure by Goodman Games so far, and while it could use a bit of work in certain areas (1- Some combats could still use some tweaking. 2- Skill challenges are rare and bare-boned. 3 -It would have been nice with a few more opportunities for roleplaying), it’s a great adventure and has inspired me to add another continent to my homebrew world.
Rating:* * * * *

Open Grave: Secrets of the Undead (Wizards of the Coast)

Open Grave is not just a book about undead, no, it’s the undead equivalent of the Draconomicon. It’s a DM’s book. From start to finish of its 223 pages, this book is stuffed with ideas and hooks for your campaigns involving the almost-but-not-quite-dead. It contains 3 different campaign arcs, each broken up for the various tiers (I love the Vampire Kingdom idea - it doesn’t get much darker than that), 9 different lairs each with several encounters (The mausoleum of Ssra-Tauroch looks like an awesome encounter to build an adventure over, with a nasty level 17 solo yuan-ti mummy at the end), 11 templates , 7 famous undead (OMG, Vecna has an aura that deals 50 necrotic damage – this will really suck if you aren’t properly prepared), 8 artifacts, 7 rituals (quite a few must haves for when you explore ancient crypts) and monsters. In fact, there are more than 160 monsters in there (the Death Tyrant looks nasty, but it’s really only one of many that I can’t wait to use), most of which look fairly balanced, although there are definitely some (the Rotvine Defiler) where you wonder if it was just meant to be extremely nasty (minor close burst 5, grabbed, ongoing 15 necrotic and lose 1 healing surge per round until you escape grab) or if you are missing something. Either way, while I love dragons much more than I love undeads, I must admit that undeads do tend to show up a lot more often than dragons. With this in mind, it’s definitely a must-have for me.
Rating:* * * * * *