Advanced Adventures: The Obsidian Sands of Syncrates (OSR)
This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was requested as one of a series of reviews by one of my patreon supporters.
All right, so this module is intended for 6 – 10 characters level 4 – 7, and the minimum number of players, at least without modifying a component of the module rather extensively, you do need at least 6 players (or at least PCs) to use this one. Rules-wise, this employs the OSRIC rules-set, and the module may be translated to other OSR games with relative ease. As always for the series, there are a few formatting convention deviations, and the module does not come with read-aloud text.
Now, while nominally designated as a tournament/convention module, this adventure does not feature a meat-grinder-like level of challenge; it works perfectly well as an insertion into an ongoing campaign. That being said, this is very much a well-rounded module in the challenges it poses, offering exploration, puzzles and combat – it does take player skill to beat. The adventure does come with scoring notes, a page of tournament character pregens in a table (with all notes) and a second version that has only the crucial pregen info on a page.
PCs surviving the module will be granted a special ring that acts as a safety net, healing them fully once. The module does come with 5 new creatures, two of which get their own artworks in b/w – these deserve special mentioning, as both artworks are amazing: The dust weird (snake of dust) actually looks awesome, and the obsidian sandman manages to look pretty badass. Beyond these, we have pretty boring guardian giants, a more interesting formaldehyde jelly and skysharks. Yep, you read that correctly!
All right, this is far as I can go here without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only referees around? Great!
The module begins in a most foreboding manner – the local guides, upon witnessing ash drifting like black snow from above, stab themselves with knives, repeatedly, and plunge from the ship the PCs are on. They seem to know something…and indeed, the PCs find their ship stranded in the eponymous black sands of an arena of the grandest kind. They have been plucked from their world and deposited in the massive arena of the god of entertainment Syncrates; starvation and thirst looms as well as the previously mentioned obsidian men mean that exploration of the arena is dangerous – there is another wrecked vessel, and said vessel seems to come from a strange place indeed.
More importantly, there are two ginormous statues – a colossal lion, and a similarly gargantuan statue of a somewhat pseudo-Greek warrior. The statue has a side-view map and top-down maps for the respective rooms, for the lion’s share of the module is about exploring the gigantic soldier statue – the inside of the gigantic statue is basically a science-fantasy dungeon that features unique and fun challenges, including pools of strange liquids inside of the statue’s stomach. The combat challenges inside feature crypt things, a riddle (which is represented as a 1/3rd page handout), and there are plenty of intriguing scenes – you see, there is, for example, a programmed illusion of a certain character fireballing the room after a couple of disputes, which can generate some nice paranoia in a tournament context. Duplicate zombies that can only be defeated by their equivalent, among other targets, may be found here. There are some clever uses of hazards and the like, but ultimately, to live through the adventure, the PCs will not only have to explore the statue – they will have to (probably) backtrack and collect quite an array of exotic components to finally access the statue’s control mechanisms.
You see, this ginormous statue comes with proper stats, and actually is a Power Rangers-like colossus that may be operated by the PCs – the statue has 7 stations, and ruby and marble thrones allow the PCs to operate the gigantic warrior – and make it fight against the gigantic lion statue monstrosity for the edification of the cosmic forces out there. The stations themselves allow casters to influence the options available for the colossus (rogues in the feet enhance AC, while monks provide a smaller bonus, but net a potent attack, for example), and yep, this is an impressive and awesome finale of suitably epic proportions! While, on a didactic level, the way in which the colossus’ operation works could be explained slightly clearer, this is me nitpicking.
Editing and formatting are good on a formal level and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the b/w-artworks are nice. The cartography is solid and functional, but no player-friendly version is included, which is a bit of a bummer. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Joseph Browning knows how to write neat modules. His second tournament module oozes science-fantasy/planar awesomeness, and features a truly epic finale. The blend of challenges between hazards, combat and stuff that engages your mental faculties is great and makes this a rather cool and well-rounded adventure. This is definitely one of the high-lights of the series so far, and a module I can wholeheartedly recommend. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.
You can get this cool module here here on OBS!