Advanced Adventures: Beneath the Heart of Empire (OSR) This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, 1/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 6 2/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look! This module is part of a series of reviews made possible by my patreon supporters,...
The second part of the Legendary Planet AP (if you don’t count the optional prologue “The Assimilation Strain“) clocks in at 118 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 107 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
I was a backer of the Legendary Planet AP, but I had no hand in the creation of this adventure. While the AP exists in versions for multiple systems, this review is based on the PFRPG-version, since that was the game the AP was originally designed for. Formula-wise, this behaves very much like Paizo’s AP, with the main meat of the supplement being taken up by the module, and supplemental content in the back. Structurally, the module assumes the medium advancement track, and has 3 parts, assuming one level-gain at the end of each part, thus taking the PCs from level 5 to 8, as well as providing the second mythic tier during part 3.
Chris A. Jackson returns with a brief piece of fiction, and we once more have a very detailed gazetteer, this time focusing on the world Rythes and a specific section of it – the once-proud world was almost torn asunder when its interplanetary gates (the Tears of Eternity) were turned against it – now, the gates have finally begun attempting to heal the planet, and a dark age seems about to end, as new people finally emerge from them (there’s a catch, though…), to find a quasi-feudal patchwork of the Broken Baronies – interesting yarn woven by Mike Shel and Jonathan H. Keith here. I *STRONGLY* suggest reading this prior to running the adventure; much like in To Worlds Unknown, the gazetteers really help the GM drive home the wonder that is so crucial to the sword-and-planet genre.
Tim Hitchcock’s and Jason Nelson’s pretty massive Legendary Vehicles article also deserves mentioning, providing the rules for vehicles, chases and 5 vehicles in one handy article; while e.g. the light sand chariot is essentially identical to the light chariot, this article also includes aquariums on wheels and sand skiffs, essentially, we have an expansion of Ultimate Combat’s vehicle rules here, with vehicular accidents catching on fire, etc. pp. all covered – how well are the new and old content combined? If you don’t explicitly try to look up which component is from where, you will NOT see a difference. Kudos.
Which brings me to an important aspect: Like all Legendary Planet supplements, this comes with something that should be industry standard: A massive Art- and Map-folio pdf. This time around, this massive handout booklet is 28 (!!) pages long, and guess what? Player-friendly key-less versions of the maps? All provided, and there is enough detail on each map to make out tech, cables, etc.! One very minor nitpick is that the overview map does not come with a version sans locations of interest noted, but for once, I didn’t mind too much, considering how many great maps are in here. While two of the artworks are quality-wise not as awesome as the rest (slightly low-res), this is very much me being a spoiled bastard – the booklet is chock-full with amazing, first tier quality artwork, certainly more than you can see in many comparable offerings. So yeah, once more – this should be industry standard!!
All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS: Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
Okay, only GMs around? Great
Mike Shel and Mike Welham also provide a total of 8 new magic items, with two (the chrome scorpion mechanized assassin being the first, and the tech-refueling or acid + cold-damage dealing liquid charge being the second one) of the magic items getting their own full-color artworks. Low-cost helmets that protect against gazes, light blindness (if caused by light-based effects), etc., a glove that lets you first short-ranged bludgeoning jolts, a magical flare – the items manage to capture the elusive theme of blending archaic fantasy and tech VERY well. Kudos.
The bestiary this time around features a monster that really creeped me out – a deadly plant monster that is presented in three distinct builds for different stages of its life-cycle (two of them with their own artwork;the third one is a parasite stage, and has a full-blown battle-scene artwork in the module!), ranged from humble CR ½ to CR 10/MR 4, and boy…the thing…it’s twisted. Love it! Horned, massive beetles (CR 4) scouring the lands, the CR 2 horned simian krang are neat – but I really liked the grey squid-people with the spider-like multiple eyes. There also is a sand-themed ambush predator (CR 6) with suitable Achilles’ heel, and remember the sarlu aquarium I mentioned above? These guys are actually CR 8 telepathic sentient lamprey-like critters that can excrete chilled, caustic mucus. The lizard-like Syaandi, who become more dangerous when cornered, complete an overall cool bestiary, with the sarlu and the plant-thing easily my favorites.
Okay, I have delayed this long enough – let’s talk about the adventure: We left the PCs as they had escaped their jailors, seeing them stranded on the gate hub world Argosa, with no way home. Thankfully, the PCs will have saved an elali named Relstanna during their bid for revenge versus the jagladine, and said ally contacts them with information on a mysterious world called Rythes, which may well hold the means to return home. Unfortunately, a gang-boss called Mr. Sarlu (yep, that lamprey-thing – but the PCs don’t know that yet!) controls the only gate leading to Rythes.
On the way to Sarlu’s compound, the PCs will be accosted by agents of competing crimelords, before meeting the mastermind and his squid-like butler: Sarlu requires three tasks (and yes, the PCs can also attempt to kill everything, but that’s not a smart move, considering Mr. Sarlu’s power. The three tasks are pretty straight-forward – remove a giant moray eel from a pool (Mr. Sarlu’s pool, but the PCs don’t know that yet…), open a quarantined puzzle box…and the final task is more complex: Some disgruntled employees absconded with “something precious” and hold it for ransom. They are hiring – and Sarlu wants the PCs to let themselves be hired, only to betray the ex-lieutenant when he’ll try to collect his ransom from Sarlu. SO, provided they are not killed by the puzzle box or the moray, they’ll be off to a seedy dive (krang bouncer) that also features a supplement tattoo parlor- but basher has already hired muscle…so the PCs might first have to get their competition to “step down” – by whatever means necessary, though a peaceful solution is possible.
Once they’ve been hired, the PCs have a few hours before the meeting – just long enough to be reminded that the Jagladine and their Klaven still hunt them! The final confrontation here, obviously, will be quite a tense affair, and the true level of depravity of Mr. Sarlu will be revealed. Let’s just say that my players vowed internally to kill that bastard. As a whole, I think a bit of troubleshooting regarding Mr. Sarlu would have been helpful; many players will balk having to d the mysterious entities’ bidding for obviously morally problematic deeds.
Anyways, the module then proceeds to take them through the Red Gate, which temporarily disrupts their mythic abilities, save those of the Morphic Nature feat and hard to kill – since mythic power in Legendary Planet was granted by the stargates, this makes sense internally. Until a certain point in the story, mythic powers on Rythes might cause them to be sickened, which fits with the themes of the desolations of the Barony of Dust, their arrival destination – beyond locals, the PCs can witness vast chag beetle bulls battling – and here, a kind of weird frontier theme is going into full force, making the adventure feel almost like a kind of sword-and-planet “winning the West”-equivalent, with feudal themes and tech-monasteries thrown in for good measure.
Let me illustrate: You see, chag bulls are valuable and rare – and there’s a solid chance that the PCs might need to make amends. They thus learn about a creature called “Shakes”, who is hunting them down – indeed, this section is pretty free-form if you want to, and you can easily trim it or cut it down, or play it more sandboxy than depicted here – Rythes, ultimately, is an exploration of ramshackle camps of those stranded here, multi-generation survivors of this harsh planet. The PCs are searching for the fragments of the legendary Opus Aeterna, the pieces of the eponymous codex – the module is essentially from here on out a scavenger hunt. This section is one of the instances where you can easily expand the material provided, should you choose to.
During their travels, the PCs will cross causeways, explore relatively detailed settlements, visit moss farms – and find the source of a mysterious fertility in these strange lands – the PCs will btw. actually determine the fate of said fertile land as they explore the lands. Did I mention the dry river? All the strange persons and creatures you can encounter here? The atmosphere created here is impressive and feels very much like a blend of John Carter and the first book of the Dark Tower-saga; did I mention that breaking hypnotic control over an entire order is part of the parcel here? En route, the PCs will have plenty of chances to influence fates big and small, and make friends with a Krang brawler named Khedri. All those locations, btw? All of them come with full-color maps.
Once the PCs arrive at True Velate, they might well run afoul of the super-restrictive (and one might say, criminal) law, as the place seeks to confiscate arcane magic items, something that few groups will let stand for long. While swiftly exiled, the exile will allow the PCs to encounter the ghost of a half-breed member of the Patron progenitor species – this entity can help point the PCs to the other components of the codex, and also once more delimits their mythic powers. Successful in their quest in exile, and reunited with Khedri, the PCs have to still deal with the True Velate issue – the module does not prescribe how this is handled…and it doesn’t have to. With all locations detailed and statted, the PCs have all the choices.
The final part of this module, then, has the PCs venture towards the Barony of Bloom – and the trek there is bound to become even more dangerous than the previous treks! Thus, the PCs are advised by their NPC-friends to go the caravan route – and if you want, you can use the caravan rules here, but the module does not require that you do, instead presenting once more a pretty massive array of encounters that you can mix and match, including one highlight: A chase with the fearful Parched Plains Riders, essentially an epic running fight with no less than three timed encounters – and yes, that’s what you can see on the cover.
The final section deals with the monastery of St. Ioh, where the flowery, seemingly peaceful monks carry a dark secret – they are controlled by the horrible plant monster I mentioned before. The monastery can become a truly horrific place indeed – and if the PCs both their extermination of these plant monsters, they will inevitably take over Rythes! Now how’s that for stakes?
With the defeat of the parasite-infested monks and horrid plant monsters, the PCs get to assemble their scavenged codex (title drop), and use it to return to Argosa – where revenge is best served cold. Mr. Sarlu attempts to kill them all off, providing a climax that should have PCs smiling once the disgusting entity has been vanquished – after all, they are much stronger now, than when they left…
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, with a vast amount of decadent full-color artworks throughout. The art and map folio is excellent, and the quality of the maps is also impressive. The pdf is fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.
Mike Shel and Mike Welham, with additional content by Tim Hitchcock, Jonathan H. Keith, Jason Nelson and Chris A. Jackson have created an incredibly dense adventure here. The Scavenged Codex is all about exploring the wondrous and strange, reveling in the fantastic and themes of sword-and-planet. It is a module that familiarizes the group with the strange realities of the vast universe they have been thrust into, with the dangers, but also with allies. It foreshadows main themes, has a great comeuppance scene, a high-octane chase – and you could probably play this module for months. If your party consists of completionists and people interested in cultural tidbits etc., then this module delivers more than you’d expect, and if you want heavily-scrited modules, you could potentially consider this to be a bit meandering. However, you always have a plot-line to drive, if you want to. I’d urge you, however, to take your time. There is a reason for this module’s review being so much longer than the one for “To Worlds Unknown.” There is SO MUCH GOING ON. I haven’t even come close to mentioning everything herein!
One could call it out for its slower pace, but after the gauntlet of “To Worlds Unknown”, this change of pace is not only welcome, it is super helpful – PARTICULARLY if you used Assimilation Strain and also duped your players (not that I’d ever do or condone that *winkwink*) into expecting a standard campaign! In a way, this is a module that familiarizes with themes via a compelling, versatile quest. It hands the reins more to the players after the heavily-scripted first adventure. And that’s a good thing. While the adventure is not as unified in its theme, it instead presents its own strengths and playstyle.
If you’re an experienced GM, you could conceivably run the entire adventure as one gigantic sandbox. While the first part will require an experienced GM, the finale of the module will remedy the adventure for players that balk at the shady dealings they’re forced to engage in during part 1, but some sort of troubleshooting there would have been helpful. The vastness of the scope, the genuine consequences of the PC’s actions – those are huge plusses!
That being said, this is me nitpicking at a very high level – as far as I’m concerned, the Legendary Planet AP so far has delivered not only 3 outstanding modules, but 3 modules that are great in very different ways. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval; no here’s to hoping that Dead Vault Descent can maintain this level of quality, see you in the review of that one!
You can get this vast module here on OBS!
You can get the 5e-version here on OBS!
The Starfinder-version may be found here.
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