Death on Doom’s Reach – Shroud of Orcus I (5e)
This module clocks in at 30 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 27 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.
All right, so this is an adventure for the highest echelons – level 17-20, to be precise, with 4-5 characters being the intended group-size. It also is Part I of the “Shroud of Orcus”-series. The module is set in Baldur’s Gate, in the Forgotten Realms. The surrounding area is depicted in an aesthetically-pleasing full-color hex-map, and the cartography of the dungeon is presented in b/w. Disappointingly, there are no player-friendly maps included in the deal. The interior artwork is really nice and full-color and sourced from some of my favorite 3.X D&D supplements. The supplement provides read-aloud text for your convenience, so if you’re one of the GMs who is not yet as skilled at improvising atmospheric read-aloud text, this’ll be helpful.
The pdf includes a total of 4 different new magic items, with a tapestry capable of trapping targets being the most interesting.
Now, unlike many DM’s Guild products, this one doesn’t simply take place in the Forgotten Realms to capitalize on the setting’s popularity and cult-status – it does tap deep into Realms-lore, but in order to discuss that, I will need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs around? Great! So, Orcus has taken A LOT of nasty beatings in the Realms; considering the sheer amount of high-level “world-beating” mages, as the pdf somewhat clumsily calls them, the demon prince of undead chose Baldur’s Gate for his latest scheme. The explanation for why makes sense, and indeed, the eponymous “Shroud of Orcus” is an interesting notion – it’s the skin of Tenebrous, from which Orcus burst forth, and includes a tie-in with the “Temple of the Opal Goddess” module, who has an agent in town – and said agent managed to ingratiate herself to the Duke and learn about the efforts of Orcus’ cult to recruit an independent vampire into the fold. Here’s where the PCs come in – after all, the vampire isn’t likely to just volunteer information, right?
Doom’s Reach, the lair of the BBEG, the vampire known as Soulreaver (no, alas, no Legacy of Kain abilities…) is a smoke-choked mountain-keep, with volcanic activity etc. – basically a classic villain’s lair. The lair includes shadows in EVERY area, which, when played as written, can be pretty grating pretty fast. On the plus-side, we do get suggestions for proper musical scores, sounds/smells and the like. Huge bummer: Know all those cool tools that high-level PCs have? You know, teleportation, scrying, etc.? Their use is penalized. Scrying the place, trying to bypass the walls, etc. – all results in damage. Don’t get me wrong: Fortifying complexes versus magic goes with any high-fantasy setting like the Forgotten Realms, but this module thus commits the cardinal sin of high-level design of penalizing PCs for valid strategies, working against their capabilities instead of with them.
While the notation of rules-relevant components is somewhat inconsistent, this module does offer quite a few interesting components: A puzzle-room makes for a cool challenge, though one that imho could have used a visual representation beyond the travel order; if a puzzle could have used a neat artwork, this’d be one. Speaking of which – there is another great trap that is missing the value for the saving throw it allows for. The dungeon per se, as you probably have guessed by now, is an intentional fun-house, and e.g. has effects building up for the confrontation with the Soulreaver, who btw. doesn’t have to be fought, which is somewhat interesting. If the PCs vanquish the “soul raver” – funniest typo herein – he respawns for a second round, courtesy of his guardian Talos, alongside a dracolich, which, while cool, doesn’t get any stats herein.
The module includes a pretty extensive bestiary section: From famine ghouls to guardian portraits to the soulfire-using Solamith, these are nice. However, the latter, for example, has references to Reflex saves, which should be Dexterity, and a reaction is listed under regular abilities, instead of its own subheader. The portrait has a feature name just bolded, missing its italics – this also extends to some features of the BBEG. There also is an instance of an incorrect saving throw value. The Sty Dead have a deadly plague that is a bit odd, in that it looks like its fever should probably use 5e’s exhaustion engine. I also noticed a damage average that was incorrect. That being said, I liked seeing the good ole’ cranium rats here. These hiccups also extend to average damage values missing for some monster features. So yeah, regarding monster crunch and formatting, I was certainly NOT impressed here.
Editing and formatting are rushed in both formal and rules-language components. Compared to Pyromaniac Press’ usual offerings, there are a bunch of glitches in rules-language, presentation, etc. herein, and there also are much more typos here. If you’re a bit of a linguistic pedant, you may also be annoyed by some deviations of how referred Realms-characters are usually called. Layout adheres to Pyromaniac Press’ solid two-column full-color standard, and the pdf utilizes nice full-color artwork. The cartography is solid, but is missing player-friendly iterations. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Odd. Micah Watt usually does better. This module, to me, feels rushed, which can be seen in some erroneous references in the rules, less precision regarding formatting (there are a TON of deviations from the standards there!), and more – all in all, this is not up to the standard that I have come to expect from Pyromaniac Press. Don’t get me wrong – this is not bad, and there is fun to be had here, but as a whole, this feels like a serious step back, and I like how the module pokes out- and in-game fun of its deliberately hilariously cliché villain. This, however, does not change that this module feels like a pretty rough start for the series. My final verdict can’t exceed 3 stars.
You can get this high-level funhouse dungeon here on DM’s Guild!