Cult of the Green Orb (OSR) (Priority Review)
This module clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my supporters.
Okay, so this module is intended for 5-7 characters level 4-7, though it should be noted that the module probably works better at the higher level ranges. A plus: The module actually has notes for suggested characters and their levels if created for this module. As for rules, this employs Swords & Wizardry (S&W); it features a very small map of the starting settlement (a large version would have been nice), and a hex-map of the surrounding area and a hand-drawn side-view of the complex – I liked that. The map is also hand-drawn, and this time around, the assigned numbers to the rooms make sense regarding their position on the map. The map comes with a grid, but doesn’t specify grid-size – I assume 10 x 10 feet, but having that noted on the map would have been nice. Speaking of which: It’d have been really neat if we got an actual player-friendly version of the map.
He module begins with a quote of the Heavy Metal movie, but if you expect some outré component, as in the previous modules by the author, you won’t find it here. This is very much a classic fantasy module. The adventure comes with a massive exposition dump-style read-aloud text. Pretty cool: We get handy dialogue snippets as readaloud text for the starting settlement/research there. The dungeon rooms and the like do not have readaloud text, though. Somewhat annoying: the module does not implement the rules-relevant formatting aspects of S&W in a concise manner. Indeed, this module requires whipping out your trusty markers to reliably run it at the table; it’s not particularly convenient, though monster stats are set apart by their stats using a different font.
All right, and this is far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should skip ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only referees around? Great!
So, this story is about the eponymous green orb, by name the Loknaar, which had two mighty known wielders explained in the exposition text – a dwarf, and it *may* also have been wielded by the priest-turned-sorcerer Dretchelich. (Also written as “Dredtchelich” sometimes…) I did not make up the latter name, by the way. Essentially, the PCs are to travel to Azul Rik and determine if the ominous green glow is due to the dreaded Loknaar. The little settlement of Piktown offers a surprising amount of depth for parties that actually bother doing their legwork, which is a plus.
However, the module does suffer from a couple of design decisions: Number one of these would be Kritus, a suspicious old NPC who wants to accompany the party, who can open the gates to the dwarven Azul Rik. The local populace, while offering inconsistent information, does provide warnings here – and indeed, taking the guy with them is a bad call: The module provides a whole array of sabotages that are about as subtle as Gollum whistling “I’m singing in the Rain” or “Row, row, row your boat…” while holding an ill-conceived knife. Essentially, this module assumes that the players take the fellow along, and works best if hey do, but that’s a TALL order. This, already, is a pretty big detriment to the integrity of the adventure, at least as far as I’m concerned.
It also puts this module in a sphere of direct comparison with Frog God Games’ “Cave of Iron” – which had serious issues.
Unfortunately, the same holds true here: Now, I’ll gladly state that the module does manage to evoke, at times, the sense of a dwarven hold – with massive 10K gold doors (no weight given), we have some cool, unconventional treasure ideas. (Just, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t sue gold = XP with this module…) This culminates in massive doors of PLATINUM. Heavy PLATINUM doors. If the party doesn’t try to get these out of the complex, they are literally doing it WRONG. Oh, but guess what? The platinum doors do not sport notes on how much they’re actually worth. The module sports pretty significant wealth, though magic item design tends to be rather boring and lacks all formatting: One of the best treasures herein is a “returning axe (+2, 60ft range no penalty, add str bonuses)”[sic!] to give you an idea.
The book also features some seriously sucky mechanical components, worst of all being the TPK pit trap: Touching one particular gem will make the floor collapse into a 500-ft. deep pit, with everything falling down. Thieves and PCs with Dexterity 15+ have an 80% chance of grasping wires to avoid the fall. All other PCs have a 50% chance, and 50% chance to grasp another character. Usually, we’d see a saving throw here. Not a percentile chance. The text also specifically notes that only thieves can find it, when a dwarf should get the customary chance – that’s pretty much a textbook example of where the benefit should apply….and even if you don’t mind the weird execution of the mechanics here, we still have a save or suck, just minus the save. Which strikes me odd indeed.
Anyhow, the complex can’t really field the claim that it makes internal sense or adheres to a kind of realism, but I don’t expect that – I can have fun with a good funhouse dungeon that makes no sense. The thing is that none of the challenges per se that the module offers are actually…well…interesting. This sounds jaded, but it’s all so paint-by-the-numbers. Dre(d)tchelich is trapped in the Loknaar, some lizardmen found it, and now they want to enslave a green dragon (aren’t these usually hanging in forests? Granted S&W Complete doesn’t state as such, but it’s kinda the convention…). The Loknaar is the true villain. There are a few lizardmen rebels (5!), and everything feels so…petty. Paltry. The only good scene herein was a troll head in a chest, sprouting tiny legs to run away and regenerate. Why didn’t it regenerate and burst the chest before? No clue. There are demons and undead and some aberrations left – all very standard, remains of Der(d)tchelich’s experiments, I guess. No, there is no clear baseline of power.
Not that there’s much to do beyond combat here. And sure, if your players are so dumb/naïve that they trust Kritus, there’s a bit of challenge here, and that may theoretically be interesting.
But what party’ll do that? Heck, “Cave of Iron” had issues re map missing etc. – but guess what? It did a better job managing to get the party to take a mushroom person along for the ride than this module does to take the obviously insane, dangerous hermit along, who may well be a legendary evil in disguise. I mean. Seriously.
For newbies, this is too hard, unforgiving and dickish; for veterans, this is too boring. The previous modules by the author had serious issues in some regards; but each at least had this glimmer of potential, of something interesting – of a world that I’d like to know more about! Not so here.
Editing and formatting are neither on a formal, nor rules-language level, up to par. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard, with tiny hand-drawn b/w-artworks-. The hand-drawn b/w-cartography is somewhat charming, but the lack of player-friendly versions is one big strike; the second strike would be that the village map is teeny-tiny – we’d have needed a one-page version here. The module comes with bookmarks, at least.
Extildepo’s third module is by FAR their weakest; while the previous ones had weaknesses, they also used to have one or two nice ideas, hinting at unique visions and potential that never really made it into the modules themselves. This can’t be claimed to be true here. This module, to me, was aggravating; it felt phoned-in, and I literally have improvised superior, more concise, and unique scenarios on the fly, without prep-work, while hungover and suffering from a splitting migraine. I scoured these pages, time and again, trying to find redeeming graces – and came up blank.
The dialogues are decent; the head got a chuckle out of me; that’s it. That’s all the positivity I can muster here. Know how “Cave of Iron” got a sound beating from yours truly for its shortcomings? Well, at least it wasn’t boring.
I can’t recommend this to anyone. It’s not even funny-bad. My final verdict can’t exceed 1.5 stars…and since I rounded up for Cave of Iron, I am left with but one recourse. Rounded down.