EZG reviews the Slumbering Tsar-Saga
Slumbering Tsar- Saga: The whole deal
This is my collection of Slumbering Tsar-reviews – including a new conclusion for the whole saga. As such, it contains MASSIVE SPOILERS. Potential players are advised to jump to the conclusion.
Part I – The Desolation
Desolation 1 – Edge of Oblivion
This is the first installment of Greg A. Vaughan’s epic 500000+ words mega-adventure “Slumbering Tsar”, published via Necromancer Games’ Bill Webb’s new company “Frog God Games.” Slumbering Tsar is being released via a subscription model and this review takes a look at the first installment of the subscription.
This pdf consists of 33 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page credits, 1 page OGL.
That leaves us with 30 pages of adventure.
First, we get a 5 pages “Introduction” to Slumbering Tsar, its epic background story as well as several, extensive hooks to draw your PCs into the adventure.
“Chapter 1: The Camp” gives us the main meat of this installment of Slumbering Tsar, the so-called Camp at the edge of the wasteland called Desolation. This camp is far beyond your average town or frontier settlement, expertly evoking a unique flavor reminiscent of a combination of old-school Necromancer Games-feeling and a touch of end-time melancholy à la “The Dark Tower”-saga by Stephen King. The chapter also includes stats for the inhabitants, 4 spells converted from Sword & Sorcery’s Relics and Rituals and takes up 14 pages.
“Chapter 2: Events in the camp” is 6 pages long and describes events to spring on your players. They are very cool, and, keeping the promise in the introduction, quite lethal. I won’t spoil the fun, though an entity called “Midnight peddler” should be mentioned…
“Chapter 3: A Desolation Primer” is 2 pages long and helps DMs portraying the Desolation.
After that, we get 3 pages of beautiful maps.
The following is true for the whole installment:
The prose is captivating and the editing is very good: No awkward phrases, no typos. The S/W-artwork is among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in a 3pp’s book and is on par with the heyday of NG. You get the stats for the creatures and NSCs where they are most likely to appear, which helps immensely.
For a measly $2.00, you get an awesome, big pdf, containing one of the most imaginative small towns I’ve read for quite some time. Even if you don’t plan to check out the whole saga, at least give this installment a try. You’ll be very hard-pressed to find a better bang-for-buck ratio or quality out there.
5 out of 5 stars.
The one and only drawback I can think of, is that due to the fact that Slumbering Tsar was not originally designed to be published via subscription, you’ll have some minor problems when trying to start ST with only this pdf. Right now, the second installment has been sent to subscribers and can be purchased, making it possible to dive into the goodness that is ST.
If you like Rappan Athuk and Bard’s Gate by Necromancer Games, give this a try: It ties heavily in with several published classics by Necromancer Games.
If you buy the whole series (including the as of yet unreleased ST 2 & 3) up front via subscription, you get the epic hardcover (probably around 600+ pages) for free once the whole series has been released via pdf and save $44. Plus, the first print-run of the books will be signed by both Bill Webb and Greg A. Vaughan.
If you are like me and have bought the old D&D 3.5-Version of ST: Desolation and think about getting the whole deal, be sure to email Bill after purchasing the subscription.
If you want to know what you get in addition, here’s a list:
-everything has been expertly updated to PFRPG
-monsters from the Tome of Horrors series have been updated to PFRPG
Even if you are skeptic, give this special price introduction a chance. If you don’t like it (unlikely), you’ll still have a great (and deadly) town to spring upon your unsuspecting PCs.
Desolation 2 – The Ghosts of Victory
This installment of the epic Slumbering Tsar Saga is 75 pages long.
One page is taken up by credits, 1 by the front cover, 2 by the OGL.
That leaves us with 71 pages of gaming goodness, prefaced by a one page introduction to the eastern part of the wasteland that is the dreaded Desolation.
Following up on the first installment of ST: Desolation, the pdf starts with “Chapter 4: Ashen Waste”, depicting one of the major areas of the wasteland. The Ashen Waste is an inhospitable land with its very own environmental dangers (e.g. acid rain or storms made of pulverized, choking bones), extensive notes on random encounters in the waste as well as 3 planned battle encounters, 2 mini-dungeons, 1 safe spot to rest (guarded by a hostile, rejuvenating guardian, though – nothing is simple in Desolation!), 1 oasis (with several sub-locations) and an encounter with a creature that is a fitting and creepy (unofficial) bossmonster for the area.
The chapter is 27 pages long and includes a new bloodline for sorcerers. The overall atmosphere of the whole area is focused on hopelessness and a constant feeling of trespassing on a battlefield that once has seen countless feet tread upon the shattered remains of both friends and foes. Awesome and incredibly concisely written, this chapter could serve as an autonomous desert/wasteland in itself.
Chapter 5 details the Chaos Rift, the second huge area of the Desolation. The chapter begins with its very own extensive discussion on random encounters in the Chaos Rift, showing already a difference in tone and setting. In stark contrast to the Ashen Waste, the general mood in the Chaos Rift is rather one of Chaos, Destruction and planar evil of a magnitude that only high-profile villains like Orcus could have inflicted on the mortal plane. The Chaos Rift is, as the name suggests, a terrible series of canyons or rather wounds, ripped into the very foundation of the earth in the war against Tsar.
After being lowered down into the canyons by Rock Troll brothers (or other means), the PCs are confronted, again, with unique environmental dangers and new challenges. Apart from the planned encounter with the brothers and 2 encounters containing environmental damages, this chapter contains 3 combat encounters (one of them may actually send foolhardy PCs to an untimely death in Orcus’ realm in the Abyss!), 2 outdoor encounters (with a series of sub-locations) and 2 mini-dungeons. For fans of “The Grey Citadel” and “The Eamonvale Incursion”, this chapter offers a nice tie-in.
(It should be noted, that one versed in the modules of Necromancer games will find numerous tie-ins with the other modules, that, while not necessary, are nice eastereggs.)
The chapter also contains the slime-zombie template and is 25 pages long.
ST: Desolation 2 concludes with several appendices:
-4 pages Monster Appendix (Spitting Gargoyle, Ossuary Golem, Screamer (not the fungus!), Shadow Dire Bear)
-1 page with a new magic item (Chain of Beguiling)
-4 pages prestige class appendix (An update of the Justicar of Muir-PrC for PFRPG, vastly superior in design to its 3.0.-incarnation, with its own codex, fluff and abilities – nice.)
-9 pages of Maps (1 page Ashen Waste, 1 page Chaos Rift, 1 page Tomb of the Sleeping Knight, 1 page Garden of the Reclaimers, 1 page Tark’s Mound, 1 page Old Death’s Hollow, 1 page Spitter’s Canyon, 1 page Wolf pack / Bartileus’ Lair, 1 page Sepulcher of the last Justicar)
ST: Desolation 2 contains enough ideas to make each component of the Desolation its own wasteland. In a way, they are unique enough to work alone, although they, of course, work even better when used as intended. Building upon the awesome mood created in the first installment, the Desolation thickens the already awesome mood.
To quote James Jacobs from the foreword of Paizo’s “Spires of Xin-Shalast”: “The thing about Greg’s adventures that has always impressed me the most is his knack for catching the excitement of discovering something new. Each of his Dungeon adventures was set in an exotic but nevertheless iconic location—be it under pyramids on the Isle of Dread, on haunted islands, in cliff dwellings on the edge of a canyon, inside of a primeval lost valley, in a lost temple dedicated to gods from the far side of the world, or even in the Abyssal kingdom of the Prince of Demons.”
Once again, this is true in his imagining of a deadly wasteland somewhere between ancient battlefield, demonic, blasted landscape and endtimes-atmosphere.
I’m very happy with my subscription and look forward to the future installments of ST. If you think about running a wilderness adventure set in an iconic wasteland, be sure to give this a try. If you liked the special price first installment, you’ll also love this.
Desolation 3 – The Western Front
is a 48-pages pdf; One page editorial, one page front cover, one page OGL – that leaves 45 pages of content in this installment of the Slumbering Tsar saga.
The module kicks off with one page of flavor text and a nice b/w artwork and then delves into the first area featured in this incarnation of ST, The Boiling Lands.
The chapter on the boiling lands is 15 pages long. Once again, we get planned encounters as well as a random encounter table and have an iconic wasteland. The boiling lands are riddled with geysers, mud and pestilence and poison are key factors among the hazards the PCs will face here. Don’t forget to bring your cleric! To give you an idea what to expect: A muddy battlefield defined by water- elemental warfare, disease and a general feeling of wading though plague-ridden swampy lands seeking to devour you and a prevalent decay that seeks to claim the PCs and make them part of the ever-present muck. Two sub-locations are provided (along with their respective maps in the appendix), The Last Outpost and the Geyser Cluster.
The next chapter details The Dead Fields, is 14 pages long and another no-man’s land with a distinctive flavor. The coolest place of the Dead fields is a Dwarven outpost that will be defended by the players against sheer countless waves of undead. Awesome! As a nice bonus, PCs may also befriend a dire wolf. A “Firebase of the damned” also promises some fun for your PCs.
The Crossroads and Tsar chapter is 5 pages long and features a gateway monster the PCs have to defeat to finally enter Tsar.
The Monster appendix features 2 new monsters, the Battlehulk and the (Poisonous) Mudmen. Both are interesting and cool.
The appendix featuring new magic items features both the “Reverse Gravity Mine” and a mighty hammer with an interesting drawback. The hammer even gets its own artwork.
As previously mentioned, we also get 6 pages of maps, 1 for the regions and two for the subregions each. My only gripe with them is, that I can’t show them to my players due to the legend features. I’d love to see some player-friendly maps sometime or in the final book.
The final installment of the Desolation chapter features once again some iconic wastelands and will surely challenge you in the unique Vaughan-style, i.e., this one is DEADLY but extremely fun. My personal favorite was defending against the waves of undead – I can see players loving this. Unlike previous installments, though, this one is plagued by several editing and formatting glitches. I found the following:
There are relic <n>s on page 14 as well as page 19. On page 26, there is line that strikes through the flavor text, page 27 and 31 have a formatting glitch about the number of wights that are encountered and the brackets are placed wrong. Finally, page 34 has two more relics.
Don’t let that detract from your enjoyment, though: You still get quality, awesome locations and challenging encounters for your PCs.
I rate it 4 stars due to the editing glitches and the fact that we still don’t have an overview map showing all parts of the Desolation as well as the crossroads.
Part II – The Temple-City of Orcus
Temple-City of Orcus 1 – The Tower of Weeping Sores
This installment of the epic Slumbering Tsar series is 54 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page of SRD, leaving 50 pages of content, so let’s take a good look at the very first part of the epic Slumbering Tsar saga that had never been released under any other system, introducing the dark and dread temple city of Orcus!
This being an adventure review, the following contains massive
so please, potential players, stop reading NOW.
Having survived the manifold and dread dangers of the Desolation, the PCs, at the beginning of this module, finally start to delve into the legendary temple-city, which is introduced via both an interesting background information and a nice idea that ensures the PCs won’t get respite from the dangers of the Desolation or the City – the true citadel of Orcus is hidden between the planes and to explore it and end the sinister threat, they’ll have to find 9 statues, the so-called 9 disciples while avoiding the alignment-warping effects of the city. But to enter the city, the PCs will have to brave the black gates of Tsar, i.e. Kirash Durgaut and the tower of weeping sores or find some other way into the city. And wow, the Black Gates are not easily penetrable – the PCs will be assaulted by several siege undead (and we’re not talking 6, we’re talking about quantities of 50+) as well as a deadly “boss”-fight against a new creature, the dokkalfoer, which is essentially an intelligent animated tower that contains deadly yet illusory defenders and is HARD to destroy, even without other enemies. Alternatively, the PCs might try to use the sunken gates, gates to the city that have been submerged in a swamp-like environment, featuring not only plenty opportunities to drown, die by the hands of bog mummies and even a living swamp. Finally, the PCs might try to scale the walls or enter via the broken gates, both of which are not truly better options, as the walls are patrolled by undead and the broken gates still contain the remains of another potential boss battle with a battle hulk. However, if they act smart, the PCs might use this hulk to their advantage. We get an 1-page overview map of the city and 2 detail maps of 1 page respectively, one for the black gates and one for the sunken gates.
There is a reason, though, why the black gates never fell to the onslaught of the army of light – the siege castle Kirash Durgaut! The legendary siege castle features three floors of the castle, its maps spanning 6 pages, 2 per floor and one page of maps for the upper floors that make up the tower of the weeping sores. A quick glance at the maps shows you the siege weapons and details that will make the fortress hard to infiltrate, even for the PCs – they better have magic, good plans, stamina and their dice on their side, otherwise e.g. animated portcullises, iron maiden golems, strategically planted siege and regular undead (if you consider e.g. Athach-skeletons or Grey Render fast zombies regular…) will get the better of them. They can also meet a devilish thief and catch him in the act and will have to fight their way through the demonic/undead troops left in the fortress up to the tower of weeping sores and its torture chambers where they’ll have to defeat General Myrmac, the deadly skeletal host general of the tower and his diabolical seneschal.
The pdf closes with two monsters ( both get their own artworks) and a magic item.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a clear and printer-friendly b/w-two-column standard and the maps are nice, have a parchment-look and come with grids. I would have loved key-less player-friendly maps to cut up and show to your PCs, but oh well. The b/w-artworks spread throughout the book are beautiful, often disturbing and capture the feel of Tsar. The encounters are cool and old-school, featuring some the PCs will easily walk over and some where the PCs will have to play it smart to prevail. In a nutshell, this installment of ST continues to provide the excellent quality and iconic locales we’ve come to expect from Greg A. Vaughan’s magnum opus and Frog God Games. The pdf is extensively bookmarked, making it rather easy to use on screen. In the end, I don’t really have any good points of criticism, this installment of ST keeps the excellent quality of the series and for people who don’t want all of the books/don’t have a subscription: If you need a dread siege castle or some ideas how to make your villain’s evil fortress more impenetrable, you are at the right place. My final verdict subsequently has to be 5 stars.
Temple-City of Orcus 2 – The Lower City
This installment of the epic Slumbering Tsar series is 64 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page of SRD, 2 pages of advertisements, leaving 58 pages of content, so let’s look at the lower city: Can it stand up to the horrors encountered in the tower of weeping sores?
This being an adventure review, the following contains massive
so please, potential players, stop reading here.
The dread city of Tsar is defined, among other things, by a deadly pall, a kind of evil mist that not only blocks direct sunlight (hello vampires!), but also impedes [good] magic and makes detect evil a rather bad idea. More insidiously, though, the pall corrupts any who dare to rest within, slowly subverting them to Orcus’ influence via garish nightmares and the dread power of the demon prince of the undead. After several rumors to glean in Tsar, the adventure continues to give us a selection of events, as Tsar is a (un-)living environment: The PCs won’t have an easy time exploring the city, as e.g. a sniper (an an invisible stalker one at that) with a reach of 3000 (!!) ft. will start trying to pick off the PCs, necessitating some clever thinking/triangulation. Another problem the PCs might face is the return of an advanced storm giant dread ghast with a whopping CR of 17 – Slumbering Tsar is hardcore and epic and while the encounter is epic and rocks, squealers need not apply when the once pure general of the army of light escapes from his prison, hungry for the life-force of men. Oh yeah, once the PCs have a certain artifact, they’ll have to deal with a steady onslaught of trolls, troll-kin and mutated varieties in addition to Tsar’s dangers. On the side of things in favor of the PCs, they may complete the quest of Gerrant of Gilboath, paladin-spirit and potential ally as well as mentor for becoming a Justicar (PrC) and source of some more than nice items. Oh, there’s also the encounter that details the return of the cursed undead caravan carrying the last disciple to the temple-city once the PCs have returned the others to their place and the caravan is hardcore. A section detailing return to the camp to stock up as well as random encounters are also provided.
There is a section detailing the Grunge, a part of the city that was heavily damaged during the assault of the army of light, including a fully mapped and disturbing shop of a bone cobbler. Apart from that, we also get a spawning pit of blood golems and a tunnel. Boring? Au contraire, mes amis! The demon-infested tunnel provides access to both the cliff warrens and the missing river (from the harrow lanes) and features e.g. a cool (and somehwat hilarious) Morlock chief that enjoys playing his pipes of pain whom, the PCs will have to stop to enter the higher levels of Tsar, but hobgoblins, ogres, a dinosaur, an ettin-colony and some troglodytes might provide for a challenging delve through the caverns. 1 map featuring some thankfully keyless sample lairs are provided.
The other area detailed is the Great Swamp that once was a regular part of the city and now comes with its very own random encounter tables. The swamp also has 3 bosses – a giant bog turtle, an advanced swamp tyrant and a half-dragon demodand with his own tar golem, guarding one of the disciples and making for an interesting, albeit strange potential ally.
The pdf concludes with 3 monsters (screamer, skeletal swarm, toxic mudman), an entry on the minor artifacts that are the 9 disciples as well as 2 new PrCs, the Justicar and the Disciple of Orcus, both of which, while powerful, are aptly designed. Much to my rejoicing, the Justicar comes with its own spelt-out codex.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice a single glitch. Layout adheres to the elegant printer-friendly two-column standard of the ST-series. The b/w-artworks rock and evoke a classic flair I’ve come to associate with the series. The maps feature the used-parchment look and offer grids, but once again, I would have loved extra versions without the annoying map-keys in order to print out, cut out and then offer to my players. The pdf is bookmarked, though not as extensively as I would have liked. An overview map of the city is provided for your convenience. This installment of ST focuses HEAVILY on exploration of a ruined city and does so in a cool and evocative manner – Even while reading it, I felt the dread and pervading oppressiveness and danger of Tsar and its ancient evil. Greg A. Vaughan once again created a superbly iconic location and for anyone interested in the whole saga, this is a clear 5-stars recommendation. However, while you might scavenge bits and pieces, I’m not sure whether this installment would be as fitting to be torn apart and resized for other adventures. People looking for that might want to detract a star. But then again: Why are you not getting the whole series? 😉
Temple-City of Orcus 3 – The Harrow Lanes
This installment of the epic Slumbering Tsar series is 60 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of advertisements and 1 page of SRD, leaving 53 pages of content, so let’s take a good look at the second level of Orcus’ dread temple-city!
This being an adventure review, the following contains massive
so please, potential players, stop reading.
The second foray into the mean streets of Tsar is introduced via, how could it be any different, random encounters and the respective critters. In order to access the harrow lanes, the PCs might have to brave the so-called lower tower gate (which comes with a one-page map) and an advanced devourer acts as the boss-fight for one of the Tsar-spanning side-quest detailing the redemption of Mordecai and offering a crucial hint for a future installment of the series. The hammer that is a part of this quest is depicted in the appendix (as a minor artifact) and gets its own detailed b/w-artwork. Nice!
Next up is the smithy of Larach-Umbriol, a smithy necessary to complete another quest from the desolation, potentially resulting in an event described in the “lower City” – it should be noted that we get another one-page map.
There is also an encampment of rather elite gnolls that make for a rather hard encounter – the PCs will have to deal with the huge wicker man the gnolls revere (interlacing with another encounter from the lower city) as well as many deadly opponents – if the PCs don’t tread lightly or fight smart, they’ll be in for a world of pain. The map for the gnoll camp is also provided on another page. However, the encampment suffers from a relic <n> that has eluded the editors. From the swill hole, the PCs can enter the chambers and cavern that run along the infamous subterranean missing river of Tsar, the piece of water that feeds the swamp-like section of the city. The river comes with a one page map as well as an additional map page containing 2 encounter areas. From morlocks to phantom fungi and a tentacled horror boss, this river is rather creepy and deadly in a cthulhoid way and e.g. a leech vermin host makes for another compelling fight as well as providing another one of the disciples for the PCs to find.
At the northernmost point of the harrow lanes, the PCs can find a majestic villa, where a covey of hags and their fire giant minions reside – here the PCs might complete a quest for vengeance for a exiled hag. Of course, this area also gets its own map. The fallen towers of the city get a map, too and the encounter from the lower city featuring the invisible sniper can be brought to a conclusion in this area. The Next area we are introduced to (again, with its own map), is the Khanjar’s gauntlet, i.e. the rather deadly gallow-trees guarded lair of a deadly woodwrack dragon.
Next up on the plate is a foundry, which one day was intended to create a titanic super-cannon, now being guarded by a plethora of golems and undead and elemental-driven furnaces. Of course, we get another nice one-page map for the foundry.
The final area of the harrow lanes depicts the cathedral of pain, the lower-class former temple of Orcus. Unfortunately, there is another <n> in one of the boxed texts. Apart from that, though, the PCs can end the threat of ashborne arachnae by slaying the brood mother. That is not all, though – several deadly undead creatures, a daraka demon and a terrible cursed cleric of Orcus (a gauntling) make for rather challenging and deadly adversaries and will be sure to test the mettle of your PCs to the limit and possibly even beyond. The cathedral gets 2 appropriately epic maps as well, making for rather cool showdowns with the big baddies.
The pdf closes with appendices detailing a new undead creature (with its own b/w-artwork), the dark custodian, as well as entries on afore mentioned hammer and the entry on the 9 disciples.
The pdf adheres to the concise and clear two-column layout of FGG, complete with a plethora of high-quality b/w-artworks. Formatting is top-notch, but the two relics I found prevent me from giving a perfect score in formal criteria. It should also be noted that my version of this pdf did not feature bookmarks, which makes navigating the file harder. With regards to content, we once again get iconic and challenging places, encounters and the conclusion to some rather interesting quests from the series, which is great for people following the whole saga. For those of you who want to buy a separate file, though, this one might not be the best choice – the harrow lanes are very entwined with the lower city and both files practically necessitate each other for full usability. On another note, I noticed that finding the disciples can prove rather difficult on the DM – on my first (granted, rather casual and hasty) read-through of the file while riding the train to work, I missed the disciple statue the PCs can find in this adventure. I hope that in the final book, they’ll be somewhat highlighted for the DM’s ease – after all, they’re the focus of this part of the saga. The separation of encounters in e.g. the lower city and its areas here made my reference of some of the things that go on in Tsar a bit harder than they should be. While I’m sure that the final epic hardcover won’t suffer from these problems, I think the two would have been better in a double price and content file. This, along with the very minor editing glitches ( I didn’t notice typos or grammatical errors, after all) and the missing bookmarks result in a final verdict of 4 stars. Add half a star if you’re using the whole saga or are especially interested in using the whole temple-city.
Temple-City of Orcus 4 – The Crooked Tower
This installment of the epic Slumbering Tsar series is 76 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC and 1 page of SRD, leaving 73 pages of content, so let’s take a good look at this rather big installment detailing the dread crooked tower!
This being an adventure review, the following contains massive
so please, potential players, stop reading.
This installment of the epic Slumbering Tsar saga sees the PCs take on the tower of Belishan the legendary blood mage and his cunning actually kicks off by providing a sufficiently cunning bluff – the stables feature a nightmare disguised as a paladin’s mount, hopefully prompting the PCs into some rather rash and potentially deadly decisions. It’s kind of nice that the Pcs get a scribbled note in the saddle-bags as a handout. The 10 levels of the tower are depicted over 7 pages of maps and a map of the city is also provided for your convenience, though it does not feature prominently in this installment. It should be noted that apart from a false throne room including a rather deadly trap/ambush, e.g. the groundskeeper makes for a quite disturbing enemy: Ever fought a natural wererat yellow-musk-creeper symbiote rogue? Thought so! And yes, a huge and deadly advanced creeper is also on the list of things the PCs will have to kill to end the dreadful threat the inhabitants of this tower pose. Even worse, though, is that among the inhabitants of the tower, an unique entity of incorporeal hate called “Malice” still lurks and guards the bloodmage’s most secure coffin. Coffin? Yup, as you might expect, the PCs are up against a rather terrible vampire of the worst caliber. It is also here the PCs can obtain some of Belishan’s spells (some of which have been converted from 3.5’s legendary relics and rituals – books) as well as another hand-out.
Among other obstacles, the Pcs will also have to contend with a visiting champion of Hel and might find a gallery of magical portraits, which should prove challenging, as the traps will drain the PCs resources. Traps? Oh yeah, don’t forget to bring your rogue on this merry delve into the tower – the bloodmage has LITTERED his lair with traps, traps and even more traps that range from strategically placed symbols (that might plunge PCs to a 20d6 fall) to scything blades, poisons and false rung ladders. The treasury, though, containing a sepia snake sigil’d rogue/assassin/potential replacement character/helpful NPC makes up for this dangers in its rather generous and detailed treasures.
While exploring the deadly tower, the PCs will have to deal with Belishan’s twisted court while not falling prey to the deceptions and false clues the vampire has spread throughout his tower, e.g. trying to bluff the PCs into releasing and fighting a dreadful petrified horror (another new creature that gets its own entry in the appendices, including artwork). Thankfully, Belishan is also not stupid in his final confrontation, bringing powerful allies with him into the fray and making for a potentially extremely deadly showdown that might be prolonged though several rooms. The PCs may also save a half-elf slave-girl and do some good, though truly getting the poor maiden to safety proves to be more difficult than anticipated, possibly resulting in a rather heart-wrenching scene. After concluding this adventures, the PCs have hopefully dealt with the vampire and found the two disciples hidden in his tower, leading off to the final installment of the Temple-City of Orcus.
The pdf closes by providing 2.5 pages of spell conversions from relics and rituals, 7 new monsters (all with their own, kick-ass b/w-artwork), new magic items (also with their own beautiful kick-ass artworks and also offer an artifact-level chess-game) and the hand-outs and maps.
Once again, the installment of the epic Slumbering Tsar saga is practically devoid of editing or formatting glitches – at least I didn’t notice any. The book is also EXTENSIVELY bookmarked, providing for a resource that is very easy to navigate and use. More importantly, the vampire mage’s tower offers a challenging crawl against a very well prepared villain that deserves the moniker both in terms of deviousness as well as combat prowess. Layout adheres to the established two-column b/w-standard established in FGG-products and the plethora of high-quality b/w-artworks further serves to enhance the creepy atmosphere of the crooked tower. My only true gripe is that we don’t get player-friendly, key-less maps of the tower, but oh well: Taking the spell-conversions, the amount of content, the hand-outs, the cool creatures and the superb atmosphere into account, I can easily look over this minor gripe. In contrast to other ST-installments, this tower, though, is practically ready-made to drop into just about any setting, making it VERY easy to insert into any remote stretch of landscape and using it on your own. If you’re on the fence about Tsar and want to check out the quality of the writing of the series or just look for a vampire’s hold that is on par with e.g. “Skeletons of Scarwall” and features a more organic, intelligently planning villain, this tower is practically a must for you. Do yourself and any cocky players you might have a favor and let them run the gauntlet that is the crooked tower. Subsequently, my final verdict practically has to be a full 5 stars with the Endzeitgeist seal of approval – highly recommended for just about anyone who enjoys a challenging crawl and dark atmosphere.
Temple-City of Orcus 5 – Foundations of Infamy
This installment of the epic Slumbering Tsar series is 40 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of advertisements and 1 page of SRD, leaving 34 pages of content, so let’s take a good look at the conclusion to the venture into the dread temple-city of Orcus!
This being an adventure review, the following contains massive
so please, potential players, stop reading.
Still here? All right! The foundations of infamy detail the plateau of the city that has originally been reserved for the upper class and the clergy and it was at this center of the city that the legendary citadel of Orcus vanished. This area is supposed to be wicked, and damn, wicked it is! The Tower Gate leading into the part of the city is a beautifully complex and deadly trap waiting to crush, pierce and kill your PCs. Better yet, the tower gets its own one-page map. Nice!
Next up on the list of locations provided is the so-called cold dell, where the nobles of the city once had their bodies interred. As befitting of the wicked ruling caste, they do not rest easy in their graves and undead abound. The dell also gets its one-page map.
Next up on the iconic locales is the troll stone, a petrified troll-lord who sends out a telepathic call for help and tries to use one of the disciples to erode his prison – once the Pcs have taken the statue, they’ll ahve to deal with trolls. A lot of trolls. (See the lower city for information on this)
Oh yeah, then there’s the maze, a VERY convoluted area of street-building gone horribly wrong that is patrolled by many flying creatures, necessitating either combat prowess on part of the PCs or survival skills. On the other hand, if they’ve come this far, both can be expected. I would have really loved to see a map here rather than the abstract confusion that is resolved via dice, but oh well.
Then there’s the High Church – the place of worship for the decadent and corrupt elite of the city, whose demonic inhabitants bow to one of the major adversaries of the city, the vrock Plaguebone. The huge army of ghasts and the mummy lord and his entourage that can be found in the crypts make for even more deadly sparring partners. The church also gets 4 pages of maps, depicting both its inside and outside and contains another one of the disciples.
The last section of the temple-city is also detailed herein – the plateau of the demon prince that contains both the remaining servants of a fallen dragon and the place where the 9 disciples can conjure back the legendary citadel of Orcus, whose reappearance is breathtakingly described, thus concluding the second part of the Slumbering Tsar saga.
The pdf concludes with 2 entries for magic items (one of which being the disciples), both of which get their artworks as well as the map appendix.
Formatting is top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. I did notice an instance of an upper case letter too much, but not enough to detract a star for editing glitches. The pdf is extensively bookmarked. Layout adheres to the beautiful b/w-two-column standard of the series and the maps, once again, come with the used parchment look and grids and once again, I would have loved to see some gridless, player-friendly versions to print out, cut up and hand to my players. Apart from that, well…this installment of the temple-city somewhat underwhelmed me at a very high level: I would have expected something unique, something special, a final guardian of the disciples, possibly divine intervention from the forces of heaven to warn the PCs (offering some rp-opportunities…), a maze that is a bit more original, something along those lines. Additionally, this being the finale of this part of the saga, its stand-alone qualities are not as pronounced as in other installments. If you’re looking for a single file, the crooked tower would be a better choice. Finale…perhaps that’s it: I would have loved to see some final encounter accompanying the return of the citadel, a kind of battle worthy of the monumental reintroduction of the evil sinkhole in which the PCs summon the place, something analogue to the dragon Malerix guarding the city of Tsar in ST:D3. Perhaps if some additional pages were included, the climax would be more epic, this is after all, the shortest of the ST-parts since the first.
For everyone following the series, this is nevertheless an excellent conclusion to the temple-city arc and thus a must-buy. For people just looking to scavenge bits and pieces, I’d refer you to another part. Not the best installment of the series, but still a good buy, my final verdict will be 4 stars.
Part III – The Hidden Citadel
Hidden Citadel 1 – At the Feet of Orcus
This pdf is 68 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages SRD and 1 page advertisement, leaving 62 pages of content, so let’s check out the latest installment of the epic Slumbering Tsar saga!
This being the first review of the final section of the Slumbering Tsar-saga, this review not only contains SPOILERS for this particular installment, but for the whole saga. Potential players might want to skip ahead to the conclusion to avoid the massive SPOILERS.
Still here? All right!
The end of the epic exploration of the deadly temple-city of Orcus has the PCs use the legendary statues called disciples to call back Orcus’ Hidden Citadel, a statue of the demon-lord of undeath as tall as a mountain and this adventure quite literally takes place at (and in!) the feet of Orcus, as the PCCs journey into the true palace of the dread demon-lord of Undeath. The adventure recaps what has gone before as well as the myth behind the demon lord and comes with adventure hooks for the saga. The pdf also includes an extensive set of rumors regarding the citadel and its factions as well as a recap of the effects on the dread aura of corruption infusing the fortress, the pall of Tsar.
As with many of the Tsar-installments, this one also features a series of ready-to-drop-in encounters that happen when a specific story-goal is reached (which often allude to future installments) – these ones especially emphasize the epic proportions of the saga – from the ultimate fate of a celestial spy, the truth behind the midnight peddler and the possible redemption of an artifact, the themes featured herein are sufficiently epic for the higher levels. In case you wondered, the way to defeat the pall is also included in these pages. However, if you’re out there to scavenge these encounters, you should be aware that they are rather high-CR and deadly, in fact harder than this particular installment of ST, as they allude to things that happen over the course of the whole exploration of the Hidden Citadel.
The feet of Orcus can roughly be separated into two areas, the great temple and the Death Chambers. It should also be noted that a one-page table fills us in about the ultimate fate of the 51 knights, most of which have been assimilated into the cult of Orcus and converted into undead (and other!) monstrosities. The temple makes for a challenging environment, even for high-level PCs.
The Death Chambers are deadly. The huge, advanced gibbering mouther (predecessor of the things to come – see one of the creatures from the encounters – Bell, the gibbering lich…) as well as the dread silid goblioids who adhere to the Deathbringer order make for deadly foes – their witch queen being an especially smart foe.
The pdf also has a monster appendix featuring the CR 16 Flayed Angel and the CR 2 Toxic Mudman.
The Deathbringer Cult gets its own special weapon quality and a certain artifact gets a haul-over, as its true power is unleashed. Even better, we get 4 pages of player hand-outs and 4 pages of maps.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. layout adheres to the 2-column, printer-friendly b/w-standard we’ve come to expect from FGG. The maps are brown/grey and the artworks are neat. The pdf comes with extensive bookmarks. This is a part of the ST-saga that is rather hard to rate – on the one hand, the adventure is great, the dungeon deadly and the foes iconic. However, while the pdf is good, it also did not have this extreme iconicity I observed with other ST-installments. On the other hand, a lot of disjointed narratives and subplots come together and in rather interesting ways, especially in the metaplot encounters. However, this is also where the format of the serial pdfs somewhat falls short – the mega-dungeon that is the citadel is an organic environment and as such it somewhat suffers from being cut into pieces and, more so than previous ST-installments, this one points towards as of yet unreleased pdfs, which makes running the installment a bit harder. Since the dungeons form itself is very iconic and atmospheric, I’m also not sure whether the adventure would profit from being used to scavenge parts, though the two areas and themes do lend themselves to this endeavor. When all’s said and done, this is an awesome installment for everyone following the ST-saga. For everyone else, though, there are better ST-parts out there. Don’t let that fool you, though: Greg A. Vaughan delivers and this is once again an excellent pdf – my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4.
Hidden Citadel 2 – Echoes of Despair
This pdf is 50 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, leaving 45 pages for this installment of the epic Slumbering Tsar series.
This being a review of a part of the final section of Slumbering Tsar, this review contains SPOILERS and I’ll encourage any potential players to skip to the conclusion. You don’t want to spoil this one.
This installment has the PCs enter the Shanks of Orcus, where Deathhands and overseers, demonic servants and dread creatures await the PCs. Amidst living quarters, demonic kitchens and mega-swarms of all-devouring rats, the PCs will start to encounter… N’gathau! To those of you not familiar with them – think Hellraiser’s Cenobites in even more twisted. But not all is dread and despair in this area, as the PCs may actually find and rescue and as of yet uncorrupted hound archon of the original army of light within these halls. (Who also makes for a neat replacement character – after all, the huge gelatinous cube may have consumed more than one PC..)
That’s not all that can be found, though: We also venture into the Templar’s Garrison, where deadly black skeletons remain as guards and dread Wight-lord Vai maintains his strict regiment over his section of the fortress’s grounds.
Any religion like Orcus needs a steady supply of slaves and thus, the slave quarters of the fortress are also covered in this installment and offer a chance for the PCs to save a legendary paladin from his predicament. They may also clash with a monitor demon (and his 5 new spells), a dread char-goblin lich aand finally, the creations of the Magitect: A unique transmuter-turned construct who has, among others, created a dragon-like construct called “Caustic Purger”, Troll-flesh Golems and similar monstrosities.
We get 4 pages of new monsters, 2 new specific weapons and 1 specific weapon quality, 1 page player handout and 5 pages of maps, one of which is a nice, key-less overview map that you can cut up and hand to your PCs – nice!
Editing and formatting are top-notch, as I’ve come to expect from Frog God Games. Layout adheres to a classic two-column b/w-standard and the pieces of b/w-artworks are mostly STUNNING. The pdf comes with extensive bookmarks to ease navigation.
Surprisingly, the excursion through halls laden with despair provided to be fun and, dare I say it? Amazing. The “Boss”-foes once again are at the top of their respective games and especially the Magitect and his creatures make for challenging, cool foes. the amount of detailed maps also made this installment of ST rather intriguing. More importantly, I think that for people who want to scavenge from the final dungeon of the epic, this installment holds more ready and is not as focused on meta-plot as its predecessor. While it would take some work, I can see the content of this module easily work on its own. Seeing that content-wise there is more desolate, unique imagery than in its predecessor and that I enjoyed this installment, I do have some gripe with it. It is deadly, it is grand – but as of yet, the Citadel of Orcus just doesn’t feel as grandiose, as dark, as deadly as the temple-city to me when it should ooze urgency, antiquity and raw evil. While this may yet be remedied in future installments, for now my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4.
Hidden Citadel 3 – The Throne of the Demon-Prince
This pdf is 64 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages SRD and 1 page blank, leaving 58 pages of content for the third section of Orcus hidden citadel, so let’s check it out, shall we?
This installment of the citadel, as all the others, details a part of the finale of Slumbering Tsar, thus my review will contain massive SPOILERS. Potential players might want to jump to the conclusion.
This installment details the Lap of the gigantic Orcus-statue that makes up the citadel – in concordance with the life-giving associations of the lap, it is here that once the huddled, fearful mortal servitors toiled for their undead and demonic masters.
In the artisan’s quarters, the PCs can not only enjoy a decay-riddled vista over Tsar, but here, in a once-posh restaurant, they will find wolf-spiders to fight and even a queen of the magical beasts to kill. If you’re like me and your players once stood against Miska and successfully defeated the Wolf-Spider against all odds, any encounter with these magical beasts feels like a blast from the past. From Potters, to chandlers to all the other craftsmen needed in such a huge citadel, the quarter adds a whole new, almost simulationalist perspective to the citadel and makes the dungeon feel more organic, albeit in a decaying, undead, shambling way. Special mention should be given to the Jeweler and moneylender: The first offers a valuable piece of treasure and nice information on the ultimate fate of one of the most elusive rogues in history, while the other is haunted by dread, deadly time flayers. We should also mentioned the aerial cavalry-animals, spider-eaters and their queen – dread hornet-like creatures with the ability to implant their young.
The entertainment district is overrun by megaswarms of dretches and still boosts some of the decadent pleasures once available to Orcus mortal followers – from the arena to the rather lethal sadist’s club (led by a succubus dominatrix), the PCs will have plenty of obstacles to overcome. Not the least will be the bathhouse, featuring not only a witch tree of the vilest kind, but also some elite nagas and their mortal servants. And don’t forget Lady Slaeth, the Marilith sorceress mistress of the local brothel: She can be considered the “boss” of this area and her entourage. Information on one layer of the Abyss is also provided in this section, as there is a gateway and it’s permanent.
Oh, have I mentioned the game of Kerouz, an abyssal kind of dice-game, in which the PCs can participate against a table of deadly, bored players including a rakshasa, imps, an ifrit… you get the idea. And of course, not only is the game deadly, your very soul is at stake when playing…
And never mind the deadly, abyssal minotaur cleric of Baphomet prowling the corridors…
The appendices deal with the new dretch megaswarm (including a new artwork), 4 new magic items (3 of which get awesome b/w artworks), 1 page handout and 4 pages of maps, one of which is an overview of the whole area, sans keys and thus suitable to be printed out, cut into pieces and handed to your PCs while they are exploring. I might be the minority, I’m not sure there, but I really enjoy these overview-maps.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to the classic b/w-2-column standard by FGG and the b/w-artworks are stunning and mostly (when not taken from the ToH) at the top of the beauty-scale. The pdf comes with extensive bookmarks.
This installment is curious in that it delivers some relief from the undead/demon-heavy installments by showcasing some depravities of the mortal and more relatable Orcus-worshippers still seep through the decay of the citadel, the PCs will be challenged by the lethal adversaries herein. Much to my enjoyment, the now derelict stores make the dungeon feel more organic, real and believable – you can almost taste the levels of decadence within these halls. On the other hand, I felt that mood-setting information, visions etc. would have gone along way to make this particular part of the dungeon even more memorable. As for its stand-alone qualities – if you’re looking for a kind of abyssal dungeon city of depravity, you might want to check this installment of Slumbering Tsar out. My final verdict for this installment will be 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 due to this nagging feeling that some of the potential of this area remains untapped – in particular, I would have liked to see a demonic drug den, more depraved remains of the practices of the servants of Orcus etc – something to emphasize this area’s blending of the urges of Eros and Thanatos in the most depraved ways possible.
Hidden Citadel 4 – In the Belly of the Beast
This installment of the Slumbering Tsar-saga is 60 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of advertisements and 3 pages of SRD, leaving 51 pages of content for the fourth installment of the finale of saga, so let’s take a closer look, shall we?
This being an adventure review, the following text contains SPOILERS. Potential players might wish to jump to the conclusion.
Still here? All right, this time, we’re in the literal belly of the dreaded citadel – here the Pcs can solve some minor puzzles (altar activates doors), battle gigantic cathedral beetles, encounter the mysterious oathstone, where thousands have bartered away their souls and potentially scavenge the remains of one of Orcus’ finest disciples. Oh, then there is the horn that both the disciples and PCs may blow. It has a 1%-chance of summoning… ORCUS! Well, an avatar of the demon lord, but still – CR 35. Suffer, you wretches, suffer! Also contains in these halls are the citadel’s scriptorium (including Dark Custodians), tallow-works (including tallow golems) and the mausoleum can also be found here.
Now if Orcus + Mausoleum does not ring a bell, then let me phrase it out for you: Deadly, deadly undead and failed champions of good riding nessian hellhounds ahead…and an undead cyclone that spawns the living dead! Hell yeah! Have I mentioned a dread living disease, a legendary behemoth gorilla vampire (including stunning artwork) and the possibility to encounter the very first Grand Cornu of the Citadel, now turned Demi-lich?
Of course, the citadel also includes a depiction of Orcus’ wand and in this installment, the PCs may finally explore it and find the Belfry, the home-base of the dreaded, practically indestructible Bell, one of the bosses of the dungeon. (More on this one in my Hidden Citadel I-review.)
The second area covered in this installment is the bosom of Orcus, where the dread wizards of the college of Glazerel once studied and played their pranks on one another. It is also here, the PCs will have to battle one of the Lich instructors. It should also be noted that some of the more creative traps can be found in this part of the fortress. Where things really get interesting, though, is in the laboratories, where proto-creatures and abandoned weapon-experiments lurk. It is here taht PCs can e.g. save a legendary unicorn-cleric of old and test their mettle against the legendary protean keeper – if they are not irreversibly transformed by proto-matter, that is (a 3d12-table provides some sample mutations).
In the appendices, we are introduced to the Dark Custodians, Living Diseases, Proto-creatures, 2 artifacts (all with artworks) and maps: We get an overview map (very helpful) and 7 pages of maps for the respective areas. While I’d still hope for key-less versions of the maps, I guess that won’t happen.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. layout adheres to the elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the b/w-artworks are neat, especially, the original/new pieces. The pdf is fully bookmarked and comes with extensive map-support. I immensely enjoyed this installment of the Slumbering Star saga, as I do just about every piece of it, but as with the other installments depicting the Hidden Citadel, your ability to scavenge individual parts might be impeded – The Citadel is ONE dungeon with a lot of ties to other levels, meta-quests to succeed in etc. and while I did have no complaints about this installment and enjoyed most of the dungeon immensely, I did somewhat feel like this could be even better – if your PCs battle a certain lich and try to get rid of the smartly defended phylactery, you’ll know what I mean. Nevertheless, I would have preferred more information on the respective areas, what once happened there/still does etc. Mind you, there is a lot of information – I just would have loved more to make the sub-section of the dungeon more distinct. Thus, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 due to some very cool ideas that break the undead-slaughterfest with interesting critters.
Hidden Citadel 5 – The Mind of Chaos
This pdf is 60 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages SRD and 1 page advertisement, leaving 55 pages of content, so let’s check this out!
This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Thus, I encourage potential players to skip to the conclusion of the review.
Still here? All right! This time, we’re going up to the topmost levels of Orcus legendary sanctuary – in ths installment, the PCs will have to brave not only the upmost levels of Orcus’ citadel, but also their inhabitants and oh boy, they are HARDCORE. Even the regular guardians consist of modified creatures and e.g. Gray Render-zombies. The creature “Soulless” would for example be a glabrezu juj-zombie – but that’s not all – home to the most corrupting rites and chambers of the elite of Orcus’ host. Gibbering mouther fast zombies, mirror fiends, the most depraved of fey and a slew of high-level vampires await the PCs, seeking to end the incursion of these meddling mortals.
Have I mentioned that Soul Reapers prowl these halls? Crucifixion spirits and fallen angels stand ready to end your groups and end them they might – the senshal, major domo (btw.: cleric/disciple of orcus/fighter mummy) and other major players in the hierarchy await to truly challenge the mettle of the group. Corrupted planetars and legendary champions of good remain, now tarnished by Orcus’ pall in these halls and a sense of extreme, deepest bowels of the abyss-level evil and despair pervades these halls and offers the PCs a glimpse into the vast corrupting power of Orcus – n’gathau, legendary demons, balors, broken spirits – rarely, if ever, has a module featured such an array of extremely deadly foes, such a who’s who of complex rogue-gallery-style legends and, if foreshadowed correctly (something DMs of the campaigns should definitely do), meeting these legends and what they’ve become should prove to be a jarring, potentially extremely disturbing experience indeed.
The true climax of this part of the module, though, lies not in fighting the foes herein, but in finally reaching the Crown of Orcus, where the knowledge of the PCs will be tested in a contest of riddles (YES!) that are based on whether the PCs have found out about the background story and can correctly interpret what has happened here. Rewarding thusly clever rpging and investment in the epic, this section is truly my favorite part of the dungeon so far, as the story of Tsar and piecing together what has happened here finally reaps rewards. And pieced together it has to be – the saga does not offer the details on a silver platter, but perseverance is rewarded – if the PCs manage to defeat the now corrupted legendary hero Lord Bishu, one of the CR 21 bosses of this module.
The appendices contain the stats for the dretch megaswarm-monster, 1 page containing a new magic item and a property, the disciple of Orcus PrC, two handouts (one being the Grand Cornu’s testament) and 10 pages of maps, leaving only the very last part of Tsar for the PCs to explore – after these challenges, though, they will probably dread the things to come – and hopefully rightly so!
Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. The pdf adheres to FGG’s b/w-two-column standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked. The handouts and maps are of the quality we’ve come to expect from the series and I look forward to the player-friendly versions of the maps in the final, epic tome. The foes in this installment finally do it: They’re smart. They’re dastardly evil. They can be considered true bosses. They’re deadly with a capital “D” and they pull no punches. This installment finally feels like the PCs have entered one of the deadliest, vilest places to blight the planet and perhaps the multiverse and in order to triumph, they will be challenged in all regards. This is epic. This is brilliant. This unfortunately does not work half as well if you haven’t read the whole saga. But who cares – this is, indeed, a fitting climax and several of the foes herein would make for valid campaign end-bosses. But they’re not. The true masterminds are still waiting in the wings. The climax is coming. After reading this, I expect a challenge of epic proportions, a finale of truly epic and dreadful revelations and challenges. I loved this installment – 5 stars + Endzeitgeist seal of approval.
Hidden Citadel 6 – The Caverns of the Barrier
This pdf is 56 pages long and introduces us to the grand finale of perhaps the most epic adventure ever published, the finale to the Slumbering Stars saga and it clocks in at 56 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of advertisement and 2 pages of SRD, leaving 49 pages of content, so let’s check out whether the finale of ST can top the stellar penultimate module!
This being an adventure review and one for the finale of the series to boot, this review contains SPOILERS for the FINALE. Players, you know the drill and believe me, you want to skip to the conclusion.
All right! Still here? Last Chance…
Ok, here reign the SPOILERS. The PCs by now have completed the exploration of the Hidden Citadel and have to brave the very depths to uncover and thwart Orcus’ final gambit by climbing down St. Haru’s Well and right from the start, the utter sense of ancient evil permeates every word as you read it. After essentially butchering their way through the elite cadre of Orcus’ clergy and his corrupted adversaries, the PCs are in for a change. A PUZZLE! A complex, smart PUZZLE! YES! In order to proceed, the PCs will have to brave an ancient problem (which can be solved via skill checks, but where’s the fun in that?) and then cross a huge chasm – animated arms are stuck in the ceiling and thus PCs can cross the deadly chasm by swinging from grasping hand to grasping hand – if they manage to avoid (another minor puzzle) the trap among the hands. If you’re stunned by the iconicity of this, just wait until the PCs meet the disfigured giant ferryman who, via his huge, deformed fist, might ferry them to the caverns in the shell of a dead albino dragon turtle across demon-infested waters.
Once the crossing into what can be considered an original tribute to underworld mythology has been braved, the PCs won’t have a respite and essentially face an army of Orcus’ chosen black orogs (some of which come with extremely deadly bristles) on their home territory and we’re indeed talking about the very worst of a strike force anyone could muster – a DM worth his salt can give the PCs truly a run for their money and a vast, epic battle/infiltration etc. is all in the realm of possibility. Several CR 20+ elite champions, ettin strikers and Orcus right hand, the demon lord Sonechard await the PCs. Yes. Sonechard. The demon lord. Is part of the opposition. As is an elemental earth dragon. And these are not the final bosses! Throughout the vast complex, insight on this isolationalist society are conveyed via exploration and the sequential battles and responses to the PCs incursion and your players as well as PCs are going to be challenged to their utmost abilities if they not only want to breach the territory of the orogs, but actually stamp out the vile breed and find the truth – in fact, the PCs may actually experience a vision that not only explains the genesis of the goddess Hel, but also that of Orcus!
And then, there’s the utterly epic final battle and it’s not against Orcus, but against the ultimate perversion of a draconic being – a sleeping golden dragon, infused and tarnished by Orcus foul will has been transformed and corrupted and is supposed to one day become Orcus’ chosen receptacle. An epic, final showdown against an ancient draconic being thus serves as the ultimate showdown of the epic Slumbering Tsar-saga and may actually result in the rebirth of a belief that has been forgotten as well as providing a fitting conclusion to this truly even now legendary saga. And rest assured that I have not mentioned all this conclusion has going for it.
The pdf also includes an appendix with the Disciple of Orcus-PrC, two pages detailing the hierarchy of Tsar’s military and church and 9 pages of maps.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to the 2-column standards and the b/w-artworks are neat. The pdf comes with full bookmarks. I was rather hoping for this saga to end on a high note and with all the quality ideas and sense of ancient evil permeating the saga, I was sincerely dreading the Mass Effect 3-effect. I’m happy, extremely happy in fact, to report that this finale represents a brilliant and fitting conclusion of epic proportions to all the suffering, sweat and pain of the PCs. The descent, the final battle, the dread force, the lost truth the PCs can uncover. The Puzzle, the challenge. Any group of PCs who considers themselves at the top of their game – this saga is a challenge to your experience, your ability to persevere and defeat the worst the dread Demon Lord of Undead has to throw at you. Tsar is Abyss on earth, perhaps even worse. And it is this sense of epic threats, of an almost undefeatable evil that brings out the best and worst in PCs as they brave dangers beyond the ken of just about any module out there. Take up the weapons, memorize your spells and look at this challenge – a wasteland, a huge city, an iconic dungeon. Your PCs are standing against the ultimate taint and perhaps the doom of your very world. Gear up, pray to your gods, enter the desolation and brave the dangers. This conclusion to the saga is a worthy finale indeed. My verdict? 5 stars + Endzeitgeist seal of approval.
Conclusion for the whole Saga:
Now, I had the time to digest teh whole epic – and it’s better than the sum of its parts – tying everything neatly together sans artificial borders, adding player-maps,l getting rid of just about every glitch I complained about in above rviews, the final result is a milestone of the art of adventure-crafting and takes the word “epic” to a whole new level. Well worth every single buck spent for the module and #2 on my best-of of 2012-list, this epic tome is 5 stars+seal of approval and should stand on the shelf of just about any DM!
If you haven’t yet, take a look at its 951 pages of glorious deadliness here.
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