[Review] NeoExodus Adventures: Origin of Man
By Thilo Graf
This module is 33 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD,1/2 page of advertisement leaving us with 30.5 pages of adventure, so let’s check this out!
Before I go into any details, I feel I should mention that I was a backer of the Kickstarter that gave birth to this module, though I didn’t contribute anything to its content or was otherwise involved in the production of this module.
That out of the way, the following review contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.
All right, still here?
The PCs are told to come to a tavern with a pass-phrase and are recruited by a man named Reest who wants to help a certain professor Reinhalt von Grumborg. On a nitpicky side: The very first read-aloud box is not necessarily off to a good start, mentioning “The Pcs wait” and the option to make a skill-check as part of the read-aloud section. While not a game-breaker, I would have preferred the box to be cut in half to make a more distinct separation between read-aloud text and rules-information. At the famed royal library of the Caneus empire, the PCs then meet Reinhalt and the scholar may be on to something: he has found a book containing lost Nexus-gateways and has a theory about the ethnicities of Nasians and Armans – as the PCs can find out via some investigation.
They thus are off to a journey that leads them to the not-particularly safe area near Macawi, close to the territory of Samentia and the Horde. The civilized lands falling behind, the threats like grizzlys, ettins and trolls grow and finally, in the Samentian highlands, the PCs will find the ruins of Ardeth, where a sphinx is happy to discuss philosophy with the PCs. From there, the journey leads them close to Eimhin, where they not only have to contend with cockatrices in the grassland, but also get a chance to battle vast mobs of calibans and worgs if they are not smart enough to disguise themselves – they are in hostile territory, after all! After crossing these grasslands, the PCs reach the Sametian jungle, where further hostile wildlife offers chances for combat and a patch of dalreans offers the potential for roleplaying as well as pointers towards the ruin. After vanquishing an ambush of assassin vine and vegepygmies, they finally arrive at Ulfsberg’s ruins where the undead guardians make for the final opposition between the PCs and activating the Nexus Gateway lying dormant there.
Unbeknownst to the PCs, they are spat out of the gateway on the island of Ablis, in the ruins of a thoroughly thrashed coastal village. Better yet, the nexus gateway on this side is broken and doesn’t work anymore. The PCs are stranded. Exploring the village should instil a sense of desolation, with an undead, weird fauna (shark-eating crabs) and collapsing walls all painting a picture of something terrible having wiped out the settlement. After the PCs have explored the village (and rested) and when they are ready to move on, then it’s time to drop the bomb on them: Locari assault! The dreaded, highly adaptable arachnid creatures attack in waves upon waves, crushing down on the PCs – hard, and worse, manage to capture the professor. Hopefully, the PCs manage to get enough respite from the assault and escape from the onslaught, running a desperate sprint through the forest. The chase could use some development/usage of regular chase-mechanics instead of the relatively bland checks presumed for the extended run. Sooner or later, the PCs will reach a castle and just manage to slip in before the conveniently appearing locari princess attacks. Inside the fortress, the PCs may think they’ll be able to look forward to a protracted siege and sans most of their supplies. And indeed, the PCs are off to exploring the keep for now and it’s not looking good – there are unstable walls here. Researching the keep, the PCs have a chance to make contact with a celestial and examine a lost library where a glimmer of hope may be found: While it may be known that the Armans destroy any vessel coming from the island of Ablis to contain the locari-threat, the research may also yield information on a second Nexus-gateway.
Only, if the PCs want to get to it, they’ll have to break the siege. Speaking of siege: While it shouldn’t be too hard for a good DM to introduce locari-assaults on the keep, the module per se is slightly too lenient here. If you want my advice: Keep the pressure, challenge the PC’s defences while they research. On a desperate flight towards the second gateway, the PCs may find the professor, tussled, but still alive, guarded by locari and accompanied by a Khaynite (an old acquaintance of the players if they’ve played the first two scenarios) who teleports away. The gateway is almost functional again and the professor infected with locari-larvae – hopefully, the PCs manage to defeat the locari “helping” the professor and extract the larvae BEFORE returning through the arch. Also: Hopefully, they destroy the arch afterwards, otherwise the locari have a way around the quarantine…
Upon their return, with the professor alive or dead, the PCs are sworn to silence and the module ends with an epilogue that shows a certain Khaynite’s hand in arranging this nightmarish trip.
After the module is concluded, we get appendices depicting all NPCs/monsters relevant for the module, rules for scrolls sent by the gods that anyone can use and short rules for creating mobs, i.e. swarms of larger creatures. (Something I use in my homegame via my own rules as well, btw. – pitchfork-wielding mobs should be feared!)
The module comes with 3 maps: One showing the overland-journey on the NeoExodus map and the other two depicting the ruined village and the cellar. Unfortunately, the latter two maps are terribly ugly and rank among the worst I’ve seen in any publication. Even b/w-line-drawings of the most basic nature would look better. Additionally, the keep of all places is not mapped – a MAYOR downside.
We also get 7 handouts depicting information they can find. It is here, unfortunately, that the writing is WORSE than in any of the pages of the module: To give you some examples from the hand-outs, these glitches are all on one page: “marvel as[sic!]” instead of marvel at ; “These log information about rich settlements along the coast of mainland Exodus.”[sic!] “Exactly where that settlement is not clear, but should it is clear that such a settlement is located on the mainland.”[sic!]. In my home-game, I can’t use these hand-outs.
Editing and formatting are bad, I noticed numerous glitches a read-aloud box missing etc. – the file could have used another pass at editing. Or 3 to 5. Layout adheres to LPJr Design’s beautiful 2-column, full-colour standard and the module comes with a second version with the white background that is slightly more printer-friendly. The artworks range from stock to some you may already know from other NeoExodus publications. Cartography, I’m loathe to say, stands out like a sore thumb and SUCKS, with the most vital map of the module missing. Also: The pdf lacks bookmarks, which makes running the module from a laptop much harder than it should be an all but requires you to print it out. The pdf comes with a legacy sheet-record for NeoExodus’ organized play.
Man. This is one of the reviews I hate to write. I really like the page-count devoted to the long journey, lending a sense of foreboding and epicness to the endeavour. I LOVE the primary antagonists and how the main meat/escalation of the module is handled. I LOVE the sense of dread, the cool ideas and how they’re executed. Also, author J.P. Chapleau’s writing has improved – while he still sometimes succumbs to the “short-conjunction-less-sentence-disease”, these instances are few and far in-between. In fact, the module is good enough to be considered for a 5 stars + seal of approval-verdict. Content-wise.
And then comes the execution. While the module only barely made the moderate funding goal, it still feels underfunded to me. The execution of the module has some mayor issues: Editing-wise, the amount of glitches, which come especially massed in the player’s handouts, are very unfortunate. Worse, the lack of a map for the most crucial location of the module is a mayor downside as well. And the cartography is at the lowest level and so ugly, that even my own sketches probably look better and I’ll use them when I run this module. Speaking of the missing map: The location and the siege could have used some development, with more consequences for PC-actions and pressure. While any DM worth his salt can improvise this, as a written module, that’s a weakness. And then there are the missing bookmarks that just are unacceptable at this point.
*sigh* I want to give this module the glowing recommendation its content deserves. It’s exciting, it’s cool. I can’t. The production values undermine the appeal of the module to an extent where I can see people having their fun actually spoilt by the lack of bookmarks, editing glitches and quality/lack of maps. Each on its own may not be as significant, but combined, they serve to pull this module down. Were it not for the great content, I’d whack this down even further, but I feel that the content deserves to be acknowledged. Still, I can’t go higher than 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 stars on this one – with one caveat: If you’re willing to get your own maps, don’t run this via laptops/electronic ways and don’t mind editing glitches, the go get this if you’re willing to work on it. The module per se is worth to be perceived beyond its failures in formal criteria.
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