Advanced Adventures: The Riddle of Anadi (OSR)
This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, ½ a page SRD, leaving us with 10.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was sponsored by one of my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience.
All right, as always for the series, we use the OSRIC rules-set, including a couple of deviations from said system’s formatting conventions; conversion to other OSR-games is pretty simple. As for level-range, the module is intended for 5 – 7 characters of levels 6 – 10, and takes place as the PCs explore the complex that ostensibly holds the remains of the fabled magic-user Anadi. The complex spans two levels, and said levels are surprisingly non-linear, allowing for some player-choice. This is an old-school adventure, and difficulty-wise, one of the tougher beasts – it definitely helps to impart Anadi’s legend on the players, and novice players may well face a TPK in this one.
This is a review of a module, and as such, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
Only GMs around? Great!
The module begins in an interesting manner, with the PCs needing to pass by a wall of force, which they probably can’t just disintegrate away at this level. So, even before the dungeon properly begins, we have the requirement of smart problem-solving skills to even start (and yes, spellcasting capabilities are taken into account). This is a good thing. It establishes the type of module you should expect.
The first room establishes a sense of foreboding – beyond a nauseating illusory effect, the PCs will be faced with a programmed pronouncement of doom for tomb-robbers etc. – this further establishes a sense of warning, as the PCs get to explore a highly magical complex. The first guardian creature also drives this home – a custom stonegolem with unique offensive capabilities. Potentially bypassed, we also find a mechanism that is kinda cool: There are statues with fingers that may be moved. Manipulating the fingers can have a variety of effects that range from the beneficial (the major benefit works only once) to the detrimental: You can end up being transformed into a small bird for a couple of turns for raising the middle finger of the statue; when you make the metalhead/bull’s horn gesture, you can end up being temporarily transformed into a hostile minotaur…but in both cases, the polymorph effects are NOT permanent. This is no save-or-die. It is old-school “tinker with stuff, see what happens” random stuff that balances risk and reward…and it is the only means to enter a subsection of the level.
You see, the introductory chamber, the one with the nauseating illusions, has a superbly camouflages secret door, and entering the complex has awoken a new creature, the so-called deep spirit, as well as the writhes. Writhes are basically staff-shaped erratically moving extra-dimensional entities that can choke you, while the spirit looks a bit like an elemental water spirit. However, said spirit can save-or-die you, as it draws water from those nearby to heal itself – thankfully only once per hour. This entity and its minions are basically the last guard that will attempt to slay foolhardy tomb-robbers once they exit the complex…and PCs that experiment with the finger-statues may thus manage to avoid a truly unpleasant encounter later on, when their resources are already stretched thin. Now, granted, the creature’s save or die is nasty, but it may potentially be avoided by smart PCs. Speaking of the fingers of the statue – there is also a buff that is based on enriched oxygen following the character as a kind of doping, but which, alas, makes the person more flammable while it persists. All in all, I like this – it’s random, but it balances its randomness pretty well, and avoids save or suck.
The complex also houses a false tomb of Anadi (sans clue that it’s not the proper one, save that it’s been too easy to reach), and another room, wherein a couple of massive urns await. Now, here, plundering urns can yield a bit of treasure…but it also may unleash another new creature, the squidhead – a human skull with tentacles (illustrated in b/w, fyi) that comes with bleed-inducing bite, carries a disease and also has limited quantities of debilitating (but not deadly) poison. Another urn represents my least favorite aspect of the module: Sure, the PCs have been warned. But opening one of the urns will suck a PC, headfirst, into a sphere of annihilation. There is no save to put the cork back onto the urn, no foreshadowing, nothing. Granted, the room is pretty obviously a lure for would-be tomb-robbers, but this no-save-die-scenario is still really, really dickish in an otherwise clever adventure.
Another component of the aforementioned statue aspect is a bit wonky – you see, there is a pond room, and the fronds inside animate at certain temperatures, attempting to drown those caught. One of the finger-configurations heats the room, activating this per se cool organic trap. I like this. BUT, and it’s a big BUT – there is no means for the PCs to discern the correlation there. It’s utterly random – in a bad way. It’s not about risks or rewards here, it’s just an arbitrary punishment for an arbitrary action, and there is no means to establish a link between these actions. So that would be the second of the finger-effects that isn’t exactly cool. The only reason I’m not harping on this more, is that it kinda makes sense – same goes for a one-way teleport into an oubliette that fakes PC-death….unless they have means to escape from this room, it may well be lethal. It also should be noted that the oubliette is subject to the global effects of level 2 of the dungeon – more on those later. An unnecessarily dickish move – you can’t teleport out of the room, but, you know, with magic, you could try to dig…Still, that is a possible and rather unfair chance at a TPK. It kinda makes sense, but it’s the second instance where the module benefits from having experienced veterans comfortable with old-school lethality.
Now, the second level of the complex, provided the PCs don’t run afoul of aforementioned kill-rooms and aren’t fooled by the false tomb, features e.g. green slime laden dead ends, and is subject to a magic-dampening effect that applies a flat 20% spell failure chance with 8 sample effects. There are spectral trolls, and the level does contain a hallway that features a series of potentially lethal, layered illusions – these are creative, dangerous, but also potentially things that experienced groups have a solid chance of navigating. The complex also includes a maddened man turned into a cockatrice, a fleshgolem wrought from rhino, crab and hyena…and if the PCs and players are up to their A-game, they will reach Anadi’s final resting place…or not, for the legendary illusionist’s point of vanishing is guarded by a trio of potent avenging angels.
The pdf contains 8 new spells. As a minor nitpick: Level is sometimes noted as “magic user X”, sometimes as “magic user level x.” Illusionists may learn the 4th level basilisk gaze spell, which is a save-or-suck petrify that may last up to 1d4 hours, but requires concentration to maintain. At 5th spell-level, magic-users may learn blood of flame, an ongoing damage spell that requires a touch. Line of sight is a 2nd level cleric spell that guides you towards a destination, but that doesn’t help with hazards. Armor reversal is an interesting cleric spell at 4th spell level, as it may target 1 – 3 beings, though the less you target, the harder the save to resist will be. The spell basically flips AC, making e.g. AC 1 turn into AC 9, AC into AC 2, etc. – interesting! If the PCs get to truly find Anadi’s last known whereabouts, they can find a spellbook that contains 4 unique spells made by the legendary mistress of magic: At spell level 3, Anadi’s guardian sphere generates a semi-sentient ball of electricity that can attack once per round a nearby target – it may be shorted out. At one spell level higher, Anadi’s chosen retreat provides a teleportation to a safe haven inhabited when casting the spell when a key-component of the spell, a kind of failsafe, is destroyed. Anadi’s peculiar ward, at level 7, is similar to guards and wards and represents a variant and tweak of that potent dweomer. Anadi’s last ward, finally, is a mighty level 8 spell, and represents a type of contingency on the power-levels of a limited wish. It should be noted that, while the pdf gets spell-formatting right a few times, it also misses a couple of italicizations.
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal, good on a rules language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports a single nice new monster artwork. Cartography is solid and does its job, but no player-friendly iteration is provided. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
I really liked James C. Boney’s “The Riddle of Anadi” – it is thematically consistent and feels plausible, makes sense in many ways, and it’s a HARD, challenging dungeon to master. It’s a module worth winning, one that is creative in many of its details. At the same time, it does suffer from the two unfair instances noted above, as well as from the fact that it would have behooved the module to seed more hints and engage in a bit more foreshadowing for the PCs. That being said, in spite of these shortcomings, I found myself enjoying this adventure; it’s easily the strongest one by the author that I’ve covered so far, and while aforementioned structural snafus force me to somewhat penalize this, I will still settle for a final verdict of 4 stars. If your group enjoys hard, but winnable scenarios that can be a bit on the lethal side, then give this a shot!
You can get this neat, but difficult adventure here on OBS!