This module clocks in at 42 pages of content, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 38 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
So this module is unconventional – based on Amora Game’s Player’s Guide, the PCs are regular average Joes and Janes of the Thaddean Empire who have just enlisted in the military to serve their grand empire. Hence, the structure of this module diverges vastly from what one would expect and slaughters quite an array of sacred cows:
first of all, it uses RGG’s apprentice-level character rules (and provides all necessary bits and pieces) – this means you start this module as a level 0 nobody. Secondly, and more importantly – this module is by its very nature necessarily a railroad. Think of basic military boot-camp-style intense training and you’re pretty close to what the PCs will go through in here – this is a railroad by design and the restricted choices indeed are part of the module’s very design.
So I’m not really spoiling the basics when I’m giving you a brief synopsis of the plot and tell you that the PCs will have to do push-ups, properly reply to military naming structure and conditioning. The training by Sgt. Lithgow in the notorious Compound 13 (fully mapped, btw.) includes not only checking the knowledge of the empire’s religion, but also obstacle courses and climbing walls – most of which btw. are depicted in complex skill challenges. Now the interesting thing here would be, that special achievements can result in specific traits – doing well at these challenges will reflect in your PC’s capabilities. Conversely, sucking or just refusing outright may result in your character earning drawbacks. Beyond diverse skill challenges for just about every skill and various story feats can be gained this way as well – take e.g. one that allows you to not provoke AoOs with unarmed strikes – not as strong as proper improved unarmed strike, but damn cool as a bonus.
Add to that formation training (with rather cool tactical benefits), weapon training etc. and we have a cool training – even before infiltrating a village of a drunken goblin clan and extracting their leader as a kind of covert ops test and the surprising finale that hints at the things to come, this module proved surprisingly interesting.
The pdf provides full stats for all characters, a DM-check-list for achievements/drawbacks and formations and 4 pages of full-color player-friendly versions of the maps.
Editing and formatting are good – I didn’t notice any significant glitches that would have spoiled the module. The layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column, full-color standard and the pdf’s maps are solid, and working, but not particularly beautiful. Artworks are okay. The pdf comes sans bookmarks, which is a comfort detriment the pdf didn’t need imho.
Designer Greg LaRose lies to us on the first page “This adventure is going to suck. Just quit reading.” You can read these words on the first page and they’re wrong – while military training is surely no cakewalk and not exciting in the traditional sense due to the rigid structure the module imposes, it turned out to be anything but sucky. In fact, especially DMs who have a hard time with rp-dialogue improvisation will marvel at the exceedingly detailed read-aloud text, which comes with blue text for regular read-aloud text, red text for speech directly addressing the PCs – which is nice to have a visual cue for the instructor-voice. Indeed, the dialogues and instructions are exceedingly detailed and provide ample help for the DM.
In fact, I thought the respective skill challenges would be much more boring, the meta-plot and characters seeping through and suffusing the experience rather in rather cool ways. Now it’s been quite some time since the release of this module and while it, at the time of me writing this review, is not certain whether we’ll ever get the follow up modules, this one can easily be taken as a nice beginner’s module to depict a party in service to some elite organization or military – reskinning is all it takes, so yes, this remains relevant.
This module is gutsy indeed – in structure, in daring to be different. And while it will not be for everyone, if you ever wanted a great “becoming heroes”-module that takes the form of a quasi-military intense training, then this will be exceedingly awesome for you. This is many things – unconventional, brave, different – but it does not, I repeat, it does not suck. While not perfect due to a couple of glitches, the non-too-impressive maps and the lack of bookmarks, it is an innovative, cool module that dares to be different and with its cool ideas (I *want* more formations and see them in battle!), I sincerely hope that we’ll one day see the follow-up modules. Until then, I remain with a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform.