This pdf is 45 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement 3 pages editorial (including SRD), 1 page ToC, 1 page foreword/table of encounters/CRs, 1 page advice on how to read statblocks for novice DMs, 1 page advice on how to use this module for novice DMs and 1 page back cover, leaving 35 pages of content.
This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.
Now if you’re familiar with the original Dark oak-module, you’ll immediately realize that this is no regular expansion/cut and paste-job; Much like Marc Radle’s superb Sunken Pyramid, this module now ties in with a fully depicted village from the excellent Village Backdrop-series, namely Thornwood. This dreary, desolate village in the midst of a swamp makes for a great way to set tone and mood: From the decrepit town to the degenerate lizardfolk tribe of the Dark Oak, the step is not that long, a sense of degeneration and decay clinging tightly to all surroundings. Foreshadowing advice, excessive notes on how to get things going and especially the slightly rewritten background story do their best to properly fit both products together in a new organic whole.
The lavishly detailed Thornhill-settlement, rife with intrigue and sporting rumors, demographics, market-place settlement statblocks etc. is not only lavishly detailed, it also sets a superb tone and its great b/w-map should intrigue quite a few players while driving home the notion that this place is on the looming verge of disaster, not by virtue of a concrete doom, but rather as the result of a prevalent gloom that makes the very notion of this place seem like something that the swamp seeks to take down.
I did mention that this is not hack cut-copy-paste job and the subsequent exploration of the fully hex-mapped swamp with extensive notes on overland travel, random encounters, terrain effects on movement etc. makes for a superb connection between village and dungeon. Speaking of dungeon – unlike many a supplement out there, we get lore DCs for the respective adversaries. Speaking of adversaries – in order to even enter the complex, the PCs have to either destroy or negotiate with the degenerate treant guardian of the place – and yes, step-by-step negotiation information is provided – not just here, but also when dealing with mind-crush addicted (a new drug) lizardfolk. In teh combats the PCs face, they’ll have to contend with an advanced crocodile and hopefully also manage the combats, which may easily spill into the water – in Raging Swan’s tradition, DMs get all rules for said occurrences provided in one concise table, making running the otherwise potentially complex encounters rather easy.
If the PCs actually manage to defeat the lizardfolk’s degenerate leaders and if they did not opt to kill the treant, the poor creature may by the way actually reward them. Among the bonus materials provided, we get a new deadly fungus, aforementioned drugs, two b/w-illustrated magic items, 6 pregens. You can also download the map of the dungeon with and without keys and grid in 4 versions on Ragingswan.com and you can also get a player-friendly version of Thornhill on RSP’s homepage, but only on the entry for the separate Thornhill-file.
Editing is top notch, I didn’t notice any typos. Formatting also rocks and layout adheres to the clean, printer-friendly Raging Swan standard. As has become the tradition for Raging Swan Press’ offerings, Dark Oak comes in two versions – one optimized for screen-use and one for print-use. Both come fully bookmarked for your convenience. The print-edition of this beauty in particular is awesome and elegant to hold in your hands – and seriously worth the fair asking price.
There are some very minor downsides to report, though: Not all artworks are stellar. On the other hand, the artwork for the treant just ROCKS and the superb cartography more than makes up for this minor gripe.
The adventure itself is straightforward but cool and features roleplaying encounters to solve problems without fighting. While I don’t consider this adventure to be genius, I do consider it to be a supreme example of an adventure you can just pick up and play with your group without having to prepare it in advance and the expanded content indeed is well worth the fair asking price and means that this is by far the superior version – especially the short wilderness interlude greatly enhances the module.
EDIT: Check Raging Swan’s hp for the web-enhancements/handouts etc.!
the original Dark Oak was good, the Collector’s Edition is superb: Enticing, captivating, oozing flair and style, it breathes a sense of desolation only rarely seen in supplements, Creighton Broadhurst and Steve Hood have expanded a good module and turned it into a great one – a joy to read and a worthy upgrade of the original module and well worth 5 stars!
EDIT: Now that I don’t have any gripes left: + seal of approval!