EZG reviews Road of the Dead Collector’s Edition
This module clocks in at 45pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page ToC/CR-lists, 1 page advice on reading statblocks and 1 page advice on running the module for novice DMs, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 36 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
All right, before I dive in – we get 6 pre-gens to run the module, a short primer-style appendix of the general area of the lonely coast including travelling distances/speed and 3 new monsters +2 magic items, the latter of which both get their own artworks. That’s the supplemental stuff. It should be noted that the original “Road of the Dead” may have had more pages, but not more content – the collector’s edition simply properly collates the information of the module and thus makes it more printer-friendly.
This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, still here? Great! What is this module about? Well, one upon a time, a strange people lived in the forests and vales of the Lost Coast. These people had their own, distinct culture and now, the PCs, via one hook or another, stumble across a complex of said folk. Now the culture is the interesting thing here, for the dungeon mirrors essentially a take on the “Road to the Underworld” that dead souls must take upon death as you probably know from Mayan/Aztec mythology. That is, unlike most mythologies, the souls of the vanquished still are in jeopardy after death – failure on the road means an end to the soul – truly final annihilation. The iconic dungeon herein mirrors the procession of such a conception of the afterlife in the very dungeon – resting, to this date, as one of the finest example of unobtrusive, indirect story-telling I’ve seen in a dungeon:
From pools of “blood”, crimson mists, roads of wails -the complex offers smart, intelligent hazards and obstacles, a barrow-labyrinth with undead that also includes RSP’s trademark dressing tables of unique sounds and things that happen, spell fragment-hazards, a divination pool – there are plenty of unique and challenging threats and hazards here – including a now added possibility for more socially-inclined characters to shine that was absent from the original. Now I can’t emphasize enough how concise and organic this module feels – the dungeon, in the very act of the PCs making their way through, tells a captivating story by simply existing: Each encounter, adversary and trap has the distinct feeling of being lovingly hand-crafted – from sharpened stalactites to flame-gouts spurting demon maws and unique outsiders and one of the most iconic final rooms in any PFRPG-module – not one component of this adventure feels like filler or anything other than downright awesome.
Add to that the further adventuring options that have direct consequences depending on how the PCs manage their discovery to acting as +1 optional boss battles to challenge the truly capable or lucky groups out there and we have a significantly improved version of a module that already was very good…
Editing and formatting, as almost always in RSP’s offerings, is flawless. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with two versions – one optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out. The pdf comes with excessive bookmarks. It should be noted that the pdf features improved artworks for many a piece and also features one version for screen-use and one for print-use.
Creighton Broadhurst’s “Road of the Dead” was a very good module back in the day, but it had minor weaknesses. The Collector’s Edition has purged them all and made what shone before a dazzlingly glorious beast. The complex and its story, the adversaries, the hazards – this module is one of the finest examples of indirect storytelling I’ve seen in ages and imho surpasses in the thoroughly awesome concept of the dungeon and the implementation of its features in the narrative almost every example I can think of. This place makes sense in all the right ways; It’s exciting and challenging, but not too hard. It can be enhanced via the bonus/follow-up encounters to be hard, if a DM chooses so. It provides a fascinating glimpse at a unique culture and one I’d hope we’d explore more in the future. The Collector’s Edition is a significant improvement in all regards and my dead tree copy, including spine etc., lives up to all the standards as well, adding superb production values to stellar content. Even if you have the original Road of the Dead, the print version is definitely worth its low price and if you don’t have the original module, then this should be considered a must-buy anyways. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval…and since “Road of the Dead” has not featured in any of my best-of lists…this one does and is a candidate for my top ten of 2014.