This adventureaweek.com product is 28 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages SRD, leaving 24 pages of module, so let’s check this out!
The default of this module is set in the adventureaweek-campaign setting and this fact is evident from the very start – while generic enough to fit into just about any setting, a sense of being entrenched in the place, being truly part of a greater world is almost immediately evoked. That being said, this is an adventure review, you know the drill: From here on reign the SPOILERS. Players are advised to jump to the conclusion.
Still here? All right! Hailing from the Klavekian kingdom, the PCs venture forth to the lands of the Vikmodere, which essentially correspond to the stereotype of pillaging, evil vikings with longboats etc. Whether these stories are true or just a product of xenophobia remains unclear. The PCs travel on the vast Serpent Lake en route to the village of Rybalka. As they reach shore and camp, though, a goblin makes off with a valuable family heirloom and thus forces the PCs to follow him into the crypt of the sun lord, where the little bugger and his 2 brothers have set several traps.
Unfortunately for the PCs, the crypt is also the resting place of the Sun Lord’s guardians and skeletons and undead animals as well as the goblins will make up for the resistance in the short dungeon crawl to follow. Finally, the PCs may not only reclaim their heirloom, but also the fabled blade of the sun lord. Which is a problem: The blade is +2/+4 vs. Evil with 3 special powers. AT FIRST LEVEL. That’s a minor artefact. AT FIRST LEVEL. And it’s GOOD. It doesn’t try to screw the wielder. “Skeletons and Zombies avoid the wielder unless cornered. Vampires will flee from the light that emanates from this blade, attacking only if no other options are available.” WHAT??? Come again? No effin’ way. The reward far surpasses the meagre challenges offered by this dungeon and is very inappropriate for this level. I expected a serious boss to justify the blade (blade destroyed in battle with arch-vampire far beyond the PC’s power – something like that), but there’s none.
Another problem is the “steal-from-the-PCs”-angle. It works. Almost always does. But it works because they have worked for it. The PCs here are 1st level. They have no attachment or sense of accomplishment to tie them to their characters or loot and thus make this hook with a thievish goblin to guide them into the tomb a very bad one. Not to mention the fact that any group of PCs worth their salt will have a) guards and b) the means to quickly track down and kill the thief, perhaps even in the act. A Goblin can’t stand up to the combined wrath of a well-rested group – the casters and ranged fighters will CRUSH the bugger.
Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect – I did notice some glitches like capital “B”s and similar typo-style problems. Layout per se is beautiful with a used parchment look. BUT: The boxes. Each box has an icon. For example a trap, to denote that now information about a trap follows. Crossed blades for a battle. And a talking head for read-aloud boxed text. Seriously? A)We’re not stupid. Less obtrusive, smaller buttons would do the same trick. B) The damn buttons are coloured and impose further drain on the printer. C)They take up space that could be used otherwise – integration into the text so they don’t stand completely apart would help here. D) They feel out of place in their design – It’s like someone jammed his damn iPhone in the middle of an antique parchment. On the other hand, e.g. “melee” is not printed bold in statblocks, which makes them slightly less easy to read than I’m accustomed to. Also, the traps and skill checks don’t follow the standard formatting as established by PFRPG-publications. I really look forward to the revamped layout the adventureaweek.com-crew is preparing.
But there are also bright points: The cartography is AWESOME. I’d recommend the download for these alone – a map of the peninsula, of the whole lake etc. is provided and the map of the crypt is neat as well, although I would have loved a player-friendly version sans the secret doors/numbers etc. The artwork is also neat.
The writing is a main problem for me when rating this: On the hand it got me excited about this ancient, wild and untamed-feeling world and perfectly manages to capture the awe, wonder and beauty of northern lands. On the other hand, the writing is inconsistent and after a paragraph describing in elaborate detail the beauty and atmosphere of the surroundings, suddenly slumps back to minimalistic, boring sentences that drain the built up sense of wonder. Suddenly, all the prepositions, conjunctions and adjectives seem to have fled the scene. This is a true pity, for the prose in some sections is STELLAR, while in others, I’d consider it abysmal. Especially the DM won’t have much to laugh about when reading the non-boxed text.
And then there’s balancing. This adventure is a cake-walk. Seriously. It’s not only easy, it’s ridiculously easy. The opposition faced is laughably incompetent, most of them wait in their rooms to get destroyed and there is no true boss. If the PCs get off track, they can fight a black bear. WITH a lot of backup. That’s the toughest adversary herein. I don’t want meat-grinders, don’t get me wrong. (Though I sometimes enjoy them.) But players need to feel CHALLENGED by a module to enjoy beating it. I wager that my group could complete this whole module without taking damage. Seriously. The reward offered by the module is out of all proportions with the level of the characters and the difficulty of the module and no true climax exists. Not even the clichéd ogre or shadow at the end of the 1st level dungeon (thank goodness), but any kind of boss or final trap to end the module on a high note would have been great. As written, it feels like it peters out with an unjustified reward.
“But Endzeitgeist”, you say, “this module is FREE! Don’t be so mean!” Yeah, so what? It is designed to draw people in the fold and my review tries to point towards ways to improve that, because, as written, there are some serious flaws that need to be considered when designing other adventures. And there’s vast potential here – the world sounds intriguing, the cartography is great, and some pieces of the writing are sheer awesome. There’s a lot of potential here, but even taking into account that this module is free, I can’t go higher than 3 stars on this one.