Advanced Adventures: The Forsaken Sepulcher (OSR)
This module clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review is part of a series of reviews requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.
Okay, nominally, this module is intended for 4 – 6 PCs level 10 – 15, though I certainly advise in favor of sticking to the higher end of the level-range here. The adventure, like all Advanced Adventures-modules, uses the OSRIC rules-set, and can be converted to other OSR-rules relatively easily. It should be noted, that, like the entirety of the series so far, it deviates somewhat from OSRIC’s formatting conventions, which is something that might irk you.
The module sports a couple of monsters, the first of which would be the arcanoplasm, a slimy thing that can mimic low-level arcane spells cast near it. Amalgam golems are basically stone golems that have a second mode – after 5 rounds of combat, the fiery spirit within ignites them and their constituent tar. Avmar are 12-foot tall black stone beasts with a horn, and its arms can slap targets back. Fungal renders are massive fungi that tear apart their prey with their tentacles, and they can throw themselves upon targets. The fungus has a regeneration, but does not specify an end – I assume that killing the critter ends this. Hephaestans are basically a 10 ft.tall humanoid clad in heat – a smith-race, somewhat akin to azers.
This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, just GMs around? Great! So, when Caleb and Trenton, two high-level adventurers, finally decided that it’s time for retirement, they concocted a get-rich-quick-scheme. Having made a living of plundering tombs of other folks, they decided that the rich and powerful would probably be rather interested in seeing their mortal remains properly secured. Thus, they ventured forth, using their considerable assets to find a barren planetoid and construct their elite sepulcher there; ostensibly impregnable. While they met their doom on an unspecified world, the sepulcher did house a total of 7 tombs when they vanished from history – though only two of them are depicted herein, with the rest up to the GM to fill in. So, if you do have a killer dungeon, it can be slotted into this rather easily.
I believe in giving credit where credit is due, and here, I really enjoy the baseline: The remoteness of the location and the legend should definitely be made clear to the players, if they hope to have a chance; it sets expectations for what this module offers in terms of lethality. On the other hand, the basic premise also falls short of what it could have been. If you expected some sort of unique hazards or planetary shenanigans from this premise, I’ll have to disappoint you. There are no unique global effects to be found that would be derived from the whole planetoid angle – 4 Dollar Dungeons’ “Panataxia”, one of my all-time favorites, did show how an analogue angle can be done much more satisfyingly. If you’re btw. a member of the old-school crowd that started sneering due to said module being for PFRPG – do at least check it out. I’m pretty positive that you’ll love it, regardless of system employed.
But I digress. This module thus contains two dungeons, which may be accessed via the per se barren hub-complex. The first module would be “The Mithraem[sic!] of Elissa”, as the map calls it. There’s a “u” missing there. The dungeon is thoroughly linear – while there is one instance where you can go left or right, the branches only diverge for this one room. There is another diverging branch, where one direction is basically a dead-end – other than that, the rooms pretty much follow a linear sequence. This is important, as, bingo, you guessed it – this complex is full of traps where the entrance snaps shut and wizard locks. Let’s take a look at the first trap, shall we? The floor contains grooves, and when the PCs enter the place, metal bulls with wheels materialize, and charge the PCs at 300 ft. per round, dematerialize in the back of the room, and then charge again. The room is RAW 30 ft. long, so not sure if this would imply having to make 10 checks per round. Oh, wait. Not checks. Attack rolls! You see, you must bull jump, and that is obviously done via attack rolls! Didn’t you know? The bulls also seem to be egalitarian and sentient, as, regardless of PC movement speed or timing, the PC will have to make two such attack rolls and make them to cross the room. Why? Because the module said so. That’s why. A PC hit must btw. make a Dex-check to remain standing. I assume It’s impossible to jump the bull while prone, but RAW, the book doesn’t state so.
There’s a second variant of this – a discus room that follows the same paradigm, save that, on a 20, you get decapitated. Speaking of vorpal…the gargantuan minotaurs later have, of course, vorpal axes. Yeah, you totally want your players to have two of these, right?
The room after the bull-room contains a gate that will suddenly manifest, and attempt to suck PCs into the gate. -2 penalty’d Strength check for every 5 ft. moved; on a failure, you also get 5 ft. closer to the gate. Touching it basically ends the module for you, as you are stranded in Hades. The gate is one-way. By the way: The room with the gate? It has a 20 ft.-broad ring you’ll need to navigate around the gate – at the top most, 4 saves are your margin of error there, and the pull extends 50 ft. and does not turn off. Having fun yet?
Have you realized the quasi-Greek notion? Well, do you expect hints from the vapors in the oracular room beyond? Well, tough luck! You’re actively penalized! On a save vs. spell, you either become confused, or die. And the oracle? Ghost. With a riddle. The riddle is okay, but failing to answer it will chain lightning you. Oh, and no save. Why? Because the author said so. The author also seems to fail to grasp how some basic spells work. The priestess has turned vampire, fyi. Her resurrection rite is really cool (and gory), but the rules suck: The floor’s slick with gore, so PC movement is halved, and each PC has a 50% chance falling. Yep, the thief is probably really pissed by having their abilities not taken into account by now.
The second dungeon would be the “Crypt of the Slime Mage”, which is more deadly than the previous one. It’s also divorced from real world lore, but considering how bland the Mithraeum was, I’m not too unhappy about this. The dungeon is slightly less linear, which is a nice plus – though 6 of the rooms will have to be crossed. As has by now become standard for the author, it’s the “My way or you die”-school of design; the walls are impassable, rooms slam shut and wizard lock, and you basically guess what’s meant to work or suffer the consequences. Know what makes high-level play cool? The stuff you can do. That you can bypass stuff, be creative. This module once more strips the PCs of their capabilities, because it’d be harder to design for.
There is an instance, where pressing 4 gemstone buttons out of sequence will power word:Kill the PCs. While not required to proceed, this is a ridiculous dick move. Speaking of which: What about a room that slams shut and wizard locks, leaving 3 rounds to escape (which is probably where the PCs find out the hard way that all their cool magic doesn’t work) before being crushed, no save. That’s literally GM-fiat TPK. The PCs can also fall into a trench of mold, and, you guessed it…save or die for a change of pace! At a -3 penalty, though. We don’t want to spoil those players, right? There is also a spear-based trap that can cripple or instantly kill the PCs hit, which is ridiculous: 3 times 1d8 HP damage and that dwarf? Toast. It may be kinda realistic, but it doesn’t fit into the concept of how OSRIC works. It highlights the discrepancy between interpretations of HP and abstraction of wounds discussion. It reads like it has been written for a completely different game. There is also a conceptually cool trap – a room that rotates, with spikes inside. Here’s the thing: To determine whether the PCs can exit, you roll a d10. There is a 5-in-10 chance that the exit will be available for a PC. This is abstract, and it does not matter if two PCs are adjacent or not. The exit can be in range for a PC, but out of range for his faster buddy. This is just dumb and obviously had no contact with either play at the table or an even halfway interested rules-editor or developer.
Also, what about a balor in a room that surprises 5-in-6. Why? Because. There is a non-skippable room with different trapped doors – it is not clear which is correct, and all effects for opening them are unpleasant. In the end, the slime-lich looms. Treasure guarded by a symbol of death, for a final extended middle finger.
Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level, atrocious regarding rules-integrity. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf has a couple of solid b/w-artworks. The cartography is basic and does its job, but we get no player-friendly maps. The pdf comes with basic bookmarks for chapter headers, but not for rooms or dungeons.
Alphonso Warden’s “Forsaken Sepulcher” is not a return to what made “Lost Pyramid of Imhotep” worth the effort to fix for some groups. It is, design-wise, atrocious and checks off each and every instance of bad design, from arbitrary challenge-resolution mechanics, to a ton of save-(or no save)-or-die instances that are neither telegraphed, nor earned, up to the mostly bland and cookie-cutter complexes, the tombs never become interesting or rewarding to explore. I don’t object to save or die, but this adventure uses it to create an arbitrary, GM-fiat-based difficulty that violates a ton of tenets of the games we play.
The complexes herein? They are a chore. Granted, this is not as bad as his worst offerings, but it also is a long, long way from being worth the asking price or effort to play and prepare. Heck, I was in equal parts bored and infuriated while reading this module. That’s a hard thing to achieve.
This is a bad adventure, and at this point, I’m just glad that I can finish writing this review and delete this adventure from my hard drive. This module really shows that the author obviously a) either doesn’t play the game anymore or b) never has. And if he has played the game, his GM obviously was HORRENDOUS. This is not “convention-game”-challenging; it’s just a grind that I can’t even recommend to the most die-hard of punishment-gluttons among players. My final verdict will clock in at 1.5 stars, rounded down.
You can get this module here on OBS.
You can get the VASTLY superior Panataxia (srsly – even with conversion work, this nukes The Forsaken Sepulcher from orbit!) here on OBS!