This module clocks in at 56 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 46 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
First things first: While this is nominally written for Beginner’s Box-rules, it works perfectly fine with the full PFRPG-rules. As for the age-bracket this is intended for, I’d suggest a starting age of about 8+; depending on how sensitive kids are, it may or may not require older kids: Personally, I consider it to be a kid-friendly module, provided the kids liked e.g. Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings movies, there should be no issues. As for adult players, rest assured that this is perfectly suitable for adults! This is, in short, perfect for family game night, with sidebars offering advice on some scenes throughout the adventure.
The module is situated in the kingdom of Threll, and is intended for a well-rounded 2nd level party.
All righty, this being an adventure-review, the following discussion contains SPOILERS. Potential players will want to jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs around? Great! On the side of the Westmarch Moountains opposite from Threll, there is a wild land between the mountains and the Darkvale forest; in this wild region, a half-ogre named Carl has taken control of an array of goblins and gnolls – and his ambitions, his dreams, range further than being a local warlord. He wants a base of operations, dreaming the dream of conquerors, of emperors. This is where the border (-lands) fort Falling Spring Station comes into play.
Too well-defended to be taken by force, the ogre-blooded leader hatched a devious plan, using his goblin druid Groultooth to negotiate with local fey to afflict the humans with a horrid disease, the crumbling sickness, which may only be cured with a special draught. This disease makes the targets take Strength damage (ability score reference once not properly capitalized) and potentially causes confusion-like effects, which obviously does not help defending a fortified structure. (As an aside – this could be used to teach, in a playful manner, how to deal with relatives struck by neuro-degenerative diseases…but I digress.) The vile goblin has, via trickery, managed to place a collar on the fey queen’s daughter, bluffing the fey and thus forcing them to help wreck the defenses of the mortals. It is into this somewhat dire situation that the PCs stumble into: The fort has been struck by the crumbling sickness, and the invisible fey have wrecked all kinds of havoc in their last assault. The overland section is presented in a full-color hex map, and via one of a few hooks, the PCs are tasked to look after Falling Spring Stations and resolve the issues that haunt the place. When they do arrive, they’ll see their work cut out for them – Falling Spring Station burns!
The first encounter already does something clever – a fey-magic concealed pit trap, which, while painful, not likely to be lethal, establishes fey trickery from the get-go, and the fully-mapped station offers a variety of clues for the PCs to unearth. Obviously, the fire will need to be dealt with, and once that’s done, the PCs get a modular array of tasks as they investigate the fort and help the locals deal with the issues – like the need to gather fresh water due to the well being out of commission, a patrol missing, etc. – these tasks are refreshingly nonlinear, and small clues that the PCs can find along the way will help them slowly determine the culprits. Getting the ingredients to heal the crumbling sickness is also part of the deal, btw. During these encounters, the PCs meet a ball-tailed wampus (gorgeously illustrated, fyi), a great cat tricked by fey magics – and like in a good family-oriented module, clever players have a chance to resolve meeting the predator in a variety of non-violent ways. Big plus: Nonviolent combat-resolution is worth MORE XP than simply slaying the critter, thus rewarding compassionate playstyles. Kudos!
Not all encounters may be avoided thus – a violent moss troll, for example, is not asking for quarter, nor is a snallygaster, but then again – this is a fantasy game, and there are bound to be some monsters. A missing patrol has gone completely bonkers and makes for an absurd encounter, considering themselves a weird sort of adventuring hierarchy. The sidebars suggest optionally using meta-commentary when playing them, which can potentially work, depending on your playstyle. Personally, I found that the ridiculous nature of folks considering themselves royalty when clad in rags, acting in a pompous manner, does suffice. The patrol should be returned home subdued and alive, if possible… (As an aside: This encounter, obviously, can be used to teach something about status, behavior patterns, etc.)
At the end of this first section of the module, the PCs should have managed to assemble the evidence collected throughout its sandboxy bits, which clearly points towards the fey – from confronting spring-heeled jack and Jili the grig (lol), the PCs can find fey flowers galore – like “Dazies”. Or Foxglove Flares. AWESOME and yep, these flowers are presented in a concise and fun manner. Did I mention the flying giant fey toad (hilariously illustrated, btw.)? When the PCs manage to get the audience with fey royalty, they’ll be pointed towards aforementioned goblin druid…who is surprisingly pragmatic and unwilling to throw his life away. Clever PCs can make his fess up to his bluff and negotiate getting some information from the goblin. With the fey princess freed, the PCs will receive a banquet in their honor, including the means to ask the fey for their aid, for they may not give it unbidden. (And yes, the read-aloud text does make it VERY obvious when the PCs should ask…)
Now, the goblin’s confessions did include a dire warning – Carl’s legions are approaching, and thus, when the PCs return to Falling Spring Station, they will have time to prepare the fort and fortify it further for the assault of the ogre-kin warlord’s hordes. Suggestions for defensive ideas are provided with suggested sample skills and DCs assigned. Two different (stackable) initial encounters, and a variety of different, secondary ones, the finale is a pretty nice, free-form attack that handles mass combat and the like in the background, without requiring much GM-prowess; in the end, the PCs, of course, will need to stop Carl himself!
Editing and formatting is excellent on a rules-language level, and slightly less refined on a formal one – there are a few typo-level minor hiccups, and e.g. an instance where the blank spaces in one line have been swallowed during layout, but these do not impede the module’s functionality. Layout adheres to the Legendary Beginnings’ series neat two-color full color standard, and the pdf sports a mixture of nice original full-color artwork and a few pieces fans of Legendary Games will already be familiar with. Cartography is a bit of a weak point for the module – while the maps included are nice and full-color, no player-friendly, unlabeled versions are included, which is a bit annoying, considering that the PCs will be spending quite some time there. The module comes fully and properly bookmarked for your convenience.
Brian Suskind and Ben McFarland are both adventure-veterans, and it really shows: This module is modular, non-linear in many aspects, and takes plenty of different PC capabilities into account. It rewards not slaying all foes, while still clearly painting a picture of the bad guys as forces that need to be stopped. Disease is a delicate subject matter, and as such, it is admirable how well the module manages to depict the material, and how it takes topics that would work just as well in a dark fantasy context and portray them as light-hearted. (As an aside: Yes, you can run this as anything ranging from light-hearted, as written, to rather dark – the latter only needs cosmetic reskins regarding the flavor and read-aloud text. I could see this work perfectly in e.g. Kobold Press’ Midgard…)
This adventurer is structurally easily one of the strongest offerings for newer groups, and it achieves its family-friendly tone, without compromising the excitement for veterans – in short, it must be hailed as a resounding success. The only reason this misses my seal of approval would be the absence of player-friendly maps, but this still comes wholeheartedly-recommended by yours truly, at a final verdict of 5 stars. Whether novice or veteran, this is definitely worth a trip!
You can get this inspired, fun module here on OBS!
While my review is based on the PF Beginner’s Box version, you can find the 5e-iteration here on OBS!