Quests of Doom – Adventures Worth Winning
This massive book clocks in at 312 pages, not including the covers. Of these pages, 1 is reserved for notes, 1 for the editorial, 1 for the ToC and two for the SRD, leaving us with o less than 307 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
But before we dive into the matter at hand, let us first define what this book actually is – a kind of celebration of a series that was nicked in its bloom due to various reasons – I’m, of course, talking about “Demons & Devils” and “Vampires & Liches”, the two module compilations released back in the day by Necromancer Games for 3:X. In case you haven’t been around back then to check them out, the premise was simple: Provide old-school modules that are HARD. Not regular FGG-level hard, but…well, nasty. Diabolical. Obviously, I was all for this and coincidentally, “Demons & Devils” was one of the first three books by NG I purchased back in the day at my local FLGS.
The others were “Tomb of Abysthor” and “Crucible of Freya”, but I’ve reminisced long enough about them in my review of their re-release/expansion, Stoneheart Valley. The series never was as popular as the more prominent NG-offerings and thus, only those two installments were made – much to my chagrin. Why? Because they were eye-openers for me. While the other books I purchased were great and have become legends in my group, there are few modules my players talk about more than those contained in these humble pages – which is due to a variety of factors. For one, they are pretty logical, as far as old-school gaming is concerned. Beyond that, they are challenging and dare to ask for brains – whether it’s puzzles or simply traps that cannot be easily disarmed by a roll of the bones, their philosophy was different and simply FUN. (Well, I may have made them even more deadly for my main campaign, yes, but that’s another story…)
I was at the same time exhilarated and dreaded the arrival of this book – I knew that there were more modules planned that never saw the light of day, but would they live up to the legend of their predecessors? Would the new versions work?
Before I present the modules, let me share some observations with you: For one, fans of FGG’s Lost Lands will cherish suggestions of where to place the modules in the context of the campaign world. Beyond that, the modules sport copious new artworks of rather neat quality, so there’s that. At the same time, I think one can pretty easily discern the modules that hearken back to the Necromancer Games-era. I may, obviously, be mistaken and only goaded on by some minor relics that refer to NG instead of FGG, but I believe that a certain sense of growth can be seen by quite some authors herein. The conversion-work, generally, is pretty good – when e.g. vehicles are included and ACG-rules are used here and there, one can see that not only the bare minimum was done. At the same time, I do believe that the conversion could have done a slightly better job in some instances, but let’s talk about this when it does rear its head.
The modules are grouped by 3s, with each segment having a certain creature-theme. It should also be noted that the modules do sport less hand-holding than many contemporary modules – experienced GMs are definitely going to have an easier time here, with so modules being more challenging (but also more rewarding) than others.
Well, let’s not dilly-dally any longer and take a look!
This being a review of a massive adventure compilation, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, still here? Great!
The first module herein would be J. Collura’s “Noble Rot”, intended for levels 5 -8. In this module, the PCs explore the dilapidated, decayed wine-making operation of the erstwhile prolific Gluant family, hoping to loot some of their exquisite wines. From a significant array of rumors, one can already piece together some intriguing notes about the family – and indeed, the exploration of their dread grounds proves to be a most exciting task – with the undead roaming and a sense of decay pervading the grounds, one can quickly glean that not all is well: Indeed, the family has fallen to the power-struggle of two dread demon lords associated with fungi and slime and thus, the exploration proves to be somewhat icky. Highlights of this module include definitely the author’s obviously well-done research that makes the place feel organic and realistic, the new wine slime, wine-making-themed hazards (which benefit quite a bit from the GM doing a quick research for them – I found depicting them easier thereafter) and two particularly challenging encounters – the final battle and the penultimate one both are nasty and reward smart players for drawing the right conclusions in a way more often seen in CoC-pulp-modules than in fantasy – nice! It should also be noted that the titular Noble Rot, based on the real world fungus Boytris Cinerea, can be contracted as a symbiotic fungus that actually acts as a bonus and which allows the GM to help in case of abysmal PC luck. While I believe this is better suited at 5th level than 8th, this module is a strong opener that definitely deserves accolades for the consistent and tight atmosphere evoked.
“Of Ants and Men”, for PCs level 4 – 8, is written by Bill Webb. Do I really need to say more? All right, the short version is that the master of Frog God Games delivers by the spades in one of the most simple, yet unique and challenging crawls I’ve read in quite some time. The premise is simple: Get Giant Ant eggs out of the hive. Easy, right? WRONG. For one, as the dead adventurers attest, there are more issues looming – and the hive is interesting. Instead of devising a convoluted mechanic to depict the hive, we instead get different alarm-statuses for the hive and an easy means of determining initiated aggression upon intruders – essentially, PCs can be sprayed with pheromones by engaging in combat – this results in “aggroing” the hive. Conversely, smart groups that infiltrate the place, steer clear of the warriors etc. may actually make their way to the intelligent queen of the hive – where they may conduct negotiations via pantomime with the mistress of the place. Following the notion of a Gygaxian simulationist world, incursions into the hive by other creatures provide opportunities for the PCs to be sprayed with “friendly” pheromones, facilitating their infiltration. Oh, and AoE-effect can crumble the tunnels. Cave-ins are NOT fun, so your PCs better be smart. As a nice twist a GM may include or leave out, the hive has burrowed into an antediluvian complex, where extremely deadly traps await alongside a mundane blade made from magic-nulling material – obviously, escaping with this nasty, priceless weapon can be rather tough…and may lead to very intriguing further capers. I LOVED this module – it’s unconventional, fun, rewards clever players and could be played as a war of attrition, an infiltration of just a hack-n-slay-type of module. Glorious!
Speaking of which – what’s better than a module by Bill Webb? What about one where Matt Finch co-authors the thing? “Hidden Oasis – Temple of Thoth”, intended for levels 7 – 9 is ridiculously awesome: When a mysterious stranger, a djinn in disguise, offers knowledge in exchange for a task and produces a strange papyrus scroll with symbols, we kick things into high gear – for the PCs leave their bodies for the plane of shadows, where the equivalent of a Star Gate can be activated with the runes handed to them, bringing them to a kind of odd demi-plane-ish Oasis. Here, an exploration of the ruins and surroundings does show that something has befallen the mysterious planar nexus that is the temple of Thoth. Clever research may also help here, for indeed, the sealed temple that can be accessed via another gate here has been infected with the Waxen plague, a dread affliction that either kills those subjected or turns them into gelatinous cubes – but thankfully, the high-priest is still around, holding the fort. Surely, the PCs can help him…oh wait.
The spiteful djinn may have forgotten to mention that the high-priest is a huge, intelligent transparent slug with a humanoid brain in the torso. Yep, that’s the good guy. Oh, and he can control the priests-turned-cubes, in case you’re wondering. Exploring the temple can net the PCs access to some teleportals, but that’s not the problem – the temple is about to be compromised by a dread force of Planeshoppers. What are these guys? Pretty deadly, locust-like conquerors that seek a waypoint into the PC’s world! Worse, they are about to come full force and the synergy effects of their castes render them formidable foes. In fact, their builds are significantly more interesting than I’ve come to expect from FGG – they are deadly and use some very advanced tricks I really like. With lethal psychic shokwaves predating the invasion, the PCs do not have much time – but there is one ace in the hole: The Scorpion of Sekhmet. If the PCs have been smart, they’ll have found some mysterious power-sources – which the can use to power a gigantic SCORPION-MECH, Power Rangers-style. I.e. multiple PCs have to pilot this bad boy, with actions eating at the power source, movement and turning adhering to concise and easily understood rules…oh, and tail-laser. This is absolutely awesome in so many ways – can you remember when you last fought alongside a giant transparent slug-priest and his gelatinous cube henchmen in a giant scorpion-mech against massive, deadly and evil insectoid invaders hell-bent on subjugating your world? Thought so! This is one of the best modules herein and absolutely glorious!
Demons and Devils are next, all penned by the legendary duo of Clark Peterson and Bill Webb. The “Sorceror’s Citadel”(suggested level: 9) is pretty much a straight-forward dungeon-crawl into the abode of a wizard named Crane, known for his mastery of a sphere of annihilation and subsequently eliminated in battle against foes most vile – and infiltrating the place is challenging – the use of magic in particular, with clever illusions etc., renders this a classic challenge.
“Ra’s Evil Grin,” so named due to the puzzle required to enter the meat of the module, also provides a quest for an artifact, this time, for the Globe of Arden – but to reach it, the PCs will have to brave a dungeon that has one of the nastiest traps in FGG-history (Yes, on par with the legendary entry to Rappan Athuk) and yes, the maze and foes are intriguing. If you’re looking for something different: I ran this as a solo-module back in my old campaign (only suggested if you’re *really* sadistic and your players know that death awaits…) and made the whole dungeon times, making the mummy priest and immortal, regenerating badass that hunted the poor PC through the dungeon. And yes, my PC solo’d the demon at the end in an extremely close encounter, but still. That being said, most GROUPS probably will have a VERY hard time surviving this beauty – one of the classics and so sweet indeed… I just wished the web-enhancement of the journey to the island had been included and updated herein.
The third module herein would be my least favorite among the old modules from “Demons & Devils” – it is essentially a two-parter, with the first one centering on a paladin getting a holy avenger. Thereafter the dread deceit of the demons becomes apparent, as the blade corrupts the champion – the true blade still lies hidden and, in the end, one has to be chosen. I’m not a fan of alignment and even less s a fan of forced alignment changes, so while not bad or necessarily problematic, I always considered plots like this to be something of a cheap shot. Rules for lesser versions of the classic demons have btw. been included in the deal here.
Okay, the next triumvirate would be “Giants & Dragons”, which kicks off with Michael Curtis’ “The Dead from Above,” intended for levels 10 – 13. And oh boy, does it kick off! SPLINTER!!! CRASH! FIRE!!! DEATH!!! Undead giants fall on the town and lurch to life, while a dragon skeleton swoops through the air and a gigantic building fashioned from titanic bones hangs in the sky. Defeating the initial onslaught, PCs can actually RIDE the skeletal dragon (!!!) up to the fortress and bring the fight to the nasty giants – who have fused one of their kind with the flying fortress, dooming the pilot to a body-horror-level nasty existence. Taking down the giant’s flying fortress and crashing its soul-consuming engines is absolutely AWESOME. This is unrepentant in its glorious ideas, with truly deadly adversaries and a set-up that will leave any metal-head (or boy…or gamer, really…) squeeing. Come on. You ride a skeletal dragon to a fortress in the sky to do battle with necromancer-giants. This does everything right that “Curse of the Riven Sky” did wrong -it embraces its over-the-top OMG-what-is-happening-premise, has glorious terrain and even means for social manipulation…oh, and, of course a reason why PCs (probably) shouldn’t keep the fortress. AWESOME!
Where the above module was pretty much straight action, James M. Ward’s Dead Dragon temple, for PCs level 6 – 8, instead opts for portraying the majestic – at the side of one of the most difficult to scale mountains I’ve ever seen represented in a module, lies a dragon-shaped temple, wherein the spirits of dead dragons roam as haunts, while hostile adventurers and lizardfolk cater to their whims – fulfilling the desires of the reptiles can lead to different rewards and sidetreks, should you so choose, and the temple does contain a unique, good white dragon as well as a means to defeating a truly deadly menace – for the PCs venture inside to become dragons to stop an ancient blue dragon from destroying more settlements. The final draconic dogfight is a joy, but only if your GM-prowess is at expert level: Handling a group of dragons in the air is difficult and I’d strongly suggest getting the legendary “Companions of the Firmament“-supplement for the rules on 3d-combats, turning, etc. – with them, this is a huge blast. Without them, you’ll have to be pretty adept.
The third module is penned by industry-legend Ed Greenwood and it does show: “Emeralds of Highfang”, suggested for 15th – 17th level, is a difficult module, themed, obviously, around giants and dragons. While the hooks are somewhat lame, exploring the complex, where giants mine at the behest of a deadly dragon, who uncharacteristically is more of an underground merchant, can actually be rather exciting. On the plus-side, Ed Greenwood’s attention to detail is superb and the respective areas do feel alive and intriguing. At the same time, I do feel that this module does fall a bit flat of its premise, which supposedly is to provide enough for rogues to do and for smart groups to do via stealth – at the suggested levels, the PCs, at least mine, will curb-stomp the hell out of all opposition herein but the final dragon. On a nitpicky note – a rather cool trap unleashes 240 Stirges – which are utterly impotent against PCs of this level. Why not utilize the troop-subtype (or a variant swarm) and make this a challenging encounter, instead of an annoying one? Generally, a solid module, but short of the previous ones.
Lycanthropes and Elementals would be up next, starting with Steve Winter’s “Bad Moon Rising” for PCs level 6 – 8. If the title was not ample clue – set in the Barony of Loup-Montagne, the superstitious locals, wolves in the woods and similar set-ups make one thing clear: We’re in gothic horror country here -this module could have been run in Ravenloft with only minor changes. The plotline, which includes sufficient red herrings, a bid for succession and a potentially doomed family, hits all the classic notes – for better and for worse. The module itself is pretty sandboxy and thus requires some GM chops, though admittedly, not too many. The twist itself, the culprit, was something my PCs saw coming in spite of the various red herrings – perhaps due to years of Ravenloft-experience. It’s a solid version of a classic story-not more, not less. I got the most mileage out of this by combining it with Raging Swan Press’ Wolfsbane Hollow, combining both plotlines into something less obvious, while retaining thematic integrity.
Skip William’s “Death in Dyrgalas” is a pretty straightforward dungeon-exploration of a ruined pavilion, which does not specify its intended level – from the CRs, I’d suggest something along the lines of level 5 – 8, depending on your PC’s power. The exploration itself pits the PCs versus wererats and weretigers and a highlight definitely is the interaction with a medusa. The module’s appeal mostly stems from the interesting surroundings – other than that, this is solid, if somewhat unremarkable.
Michael Curtis’ next module would be “The Darkening of Namjan Forest” for PCs level 6 – 8. Said forest is slowly, but surely becoming coterminous with the Plane of Shadows and to stop this, the PCs have to find and disable a dangerous artifact within the depths of this forest. The hexed map of the forest allows for an easy tracking of the progress of the darkening and the continuously draining effects of the darkening provided serves as an intriguing backdrop with rules-relevant repercussions. Via special quartz, the PCs may get themselves an edge versus the predominantly draining creatures herein – there are A LOT of shadows and similar creatures in this module, so depending on your PC’s preparation and classes, the difficulty of this module may fluctuate somewhat. I really enjoyed the general premise and set-up of this one, the impending doom and the continuous representation of the ticking of the clock provided by the encroaching darkness. However, alas, there are some issues among the details herein – from sensory-deprivation tanks and similar magical apparatuses, there are quite some unique benefits to be gained here – and their rules-language is horribly opaque, rendering them VERY over-powered. I strongly urge a GM to take care before allowing the PCs to utilize these. In fact, I think they should be nerfed and/or replaced. This, though, constitutes the most negative thing about this module – the new creatures and the adversary are interesting and, in the hands of a GM willing to sand off the rough edges, this definitely is a very fun experience.
The next three modules have the theme of Men & Monstrosities, with James M. Ward’s “Deep in the Vale” as a 1st level module being the first. The set-up is interesting in a way – the PCs are plain folks of the Vale, everyday people, and the module begins promising, with the Thor-ordained sporty trek around the vale that inevitably results in trouble. The module, obviously, tries to chronicle the step from everyday-Joe/Jane to hero and the tidbits on culture provided are intriguing. But this, as much as I’m loathe to say it, is one of the worst modules FGG has ever released. If I didn’t know any better, I wouldn’t expect Mr. Ward’s pen at work here. Let me elaborate: The premise, is unique and hasn’t been done much recently, but it suffers from this being an adventure – to properly invest the players in the setting a closer gazetteer, nomenclature, suggested roles and origins for casting talent – all of that should have been covered. They’re not. Worse, everything here is a) clichéd and b) a non-threat in the great whole of things.
You see, there are essentially two catchers – a DM-PC, the horribly-named elf Smaragdus and if things get too heated, there’s a wizard who can fireball everything to smithereens. I.e., the PCs and all their struggles essentially boil down to those two pricks not getting the job done/being lazy – it’s the old issue of the Forgotten Realms, where some areas just had too many high-level NPCs for the PCs to matter. “Elminster is not available, please class later.” Worse, the wizard herein does not have Elminster’s realms-spanning responsibilities, so he has no reason not to ge his grip together and totter with the PCs to the woods. The adversaries are also horribly trite – wolves, goblins, orcs, giant spiders. And yes, the orcs come with an ogre. Only the shadow is missing from the clichés of boring low-level foes. We have a kidnapped damsel that is so obvious, I only expected the Timmy-character to show up next. Beyond that, the module falls prey to hackneyed logic – why does prodding the giant spider nets not endanger the folk outside?
Shouldn’t heroes NOT endanger commoners? Why do the responses of the goblins, which look like taken from a choose-your-adventure-novel, make no concise sense from the goblin’s perspective? Why does the non-read-aloud text AND the read-aloud text TELL the players what exactly they’re doing if they choose A)? This is railroady, inconsistent, mechanically-boring and the only positive thing I can say about it, is that the few cultural tidbits are halfway decent. This looks like a “First module you run, ever, as a DM”-type of module, but for that, it’s too opaque and does not do a good enough job challenging all players and making them feel important – only the strongest PC, the Blacksmith, truly has any connection. Fun fact: Strength has, counter-intuitively, NOTHING to do with being a blacksmith in rules – Craft would be the skill, so strong PCs sans the skill make NO SENSE for that. This module is a sore spot in the whole anthology – it does not fit the premise, fails as gazetteer, module AND introduction for novice GMs. It’s horrible and drags the whole book down a small notch and I can’t fathom how it got included herein.
Thankfully, Casey W. Christofferson and Scott Greene’s “Irtep’s Dish,” for characters level 6 – 8, is a return to full-blown, awesome form – and I mean AWESOME, as in, glorious- situated in a city (Bard’s Gate in the Lost Lands), this begins with an investigation of an eccentric wizard gone missing – a wizard who was not only smart, he also had a gambling issue. In an interesting blend of fantasy and noir tropes, investigating his former lover, colleagues and debtors can unearth pretty soon that there are ample people looking for the man – and not all are honest regarding their intentions, with a horrible curse being subtly and cleverly used for the wizard’s downfall. Via this investigation, which brings the PCs to the city’s largest casino (fully mapped), the PCs can get the pieces together to investigate the out-of-bounds wizard’s tower – if they can get past the guards and inside, past the deadly puzzle in the beginning, which is btw. logical and fun. This is only where the fun starts, though – the wizard has retreated via an artifact into a petri-dish like environment and the PCs need to shrink down to microscopic size, battling protozoan orbs, flesh-eating fungi, nematodes and finally release the wizard, convince him to return and get his affairs in order. This section is bizarre, fun and played in an awesome, great way – if I may: If the PCs enjoy their trip into the realms of the microscopic, consider picking up Everyman Gaming’s superb “Microsized Adventures” and keep the options for size-alterations. Oh, and yes, this module is pure awesomeness!
As if to apologize for the first module in this set, Matt Finch’s “Perils of Ghostwood Pass”, for PCs level 5 – 7, also hits this absolutely stellar tone in a completely different way: Potentially fitting into any cold pass-region, the Ghostwood Pass is a storied environment – here, legendary twins only recently defeated a powerful and nasty fey of the Winter Court, thus banishing the hyper-cold ghostwind to only a few instances per year. As the PCs begin this module, a timer is running – after that, the ghostwind strikes. The issue is that something is thoroughly amiss – the hastily erected Abbey of Saint Kathelyn may provide shelter, as may the local druid, though both do not deal well with another. The two factions also provide unique benefits for the PCs as they try to defeat the dreaded mountain queen – and unearth the truth behind the mysteries of the Ghostwind Pass. In case the above did not provide ample clue – wilderness survival, hexploration in the hostile pass, random encounters – all provided, alongside a cleverly entrenched mystery astute PCs can unearth. This module is SUPERB and would coincidentally fit really well in the context of Northlands with some minor reskinning. Oh, and the adversary build rank among the more challenging and well-crafted herein, which coincidentally provides a lead-in to the last triumvirate of modules.
This would be the updates of “Vampires and Liches,” with Casey W. Christofferson and Bill Webb’s “Sewers of the Underguild” for 11th level characters being the first – the premise of which is pretty simple: In a rather deadly sewer under ruins or a metropolis lies the hiding place of a guild of vampires. Exterminate them. This sounds simple, when it is anything but simple – the underguild were formidable foes, with numerous class levels, deadly traps and the like. Alas, here, the conversion somewhat botched – with vampires as a type being rather nerfed in PFRPG, and the increased options available for characters via classes and combinations has not been realized to them same extent as in the original version – essentially, the adversaries are a tad bit squishier, the module has lost some of its threat. Mind you, this still is a challenging module, sure, but it does not live up to its previous iteration’s level of lethality. If you don’t know the original, you probably won’t wind, but this can also be seen in the next module, penned by the same duo.
“The Pyramid of Amra”, for 12th level characters, pits the PCs against a monastery in the hands of lethal adversaries and finally, against a vampire-monk. The exploration of the areas herein is thoroughly compelling and lends itself well to the insertion of powerful adversaries and intriguing puzzles. And indeed, the final adversary *is* still deadly; however, I still found myself wishing the builds provided had been changed in a slightly more pronounced manner.
The final adventure, “Isle of Eliphaz”, intended for characters of at least 14th level, is still LETHAL – while, when I ran the module, I made the whole place a selectively null magics/psionics zone, thus rendering it even worse, the base module already is brutal – exceedingly brutal. And, in fact, here e.g. the intellect devourer with class levels and the ancient, elemental evil’s pathfinder iteration maintain the level of deadly challenge I enjoy from this series.
Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect – in some of the older modules, references here and there remain and some of the previously unreleased, older modules feel a tad bit less refined than others, with unique benefits particularly not always perfectly syncing up with rules-language. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard with copious, original & glorious b/w-artworks. The maps generally are well-drawn, though I wished the book had a player-friendly appendix of unkeyed maps for particularly the hexcrawl-sections.
Scott Greene, J. Collura, Matt Finch, Clark Peterson, Bill Webb, Michael Curtis, Skip Williams, James M. Ward, Ed Greenwood,, Casey W. Cristofferson, Steven Winter – these names should ring a bell and indeed, Quests of Doom, as a whole, manages to achieve the goal to create challenging, unique modules. While a couple of the modules did fall a bit short of the stellar quality established by the rest and while some do require a bit of GM fiddling, in the end, this book does contain several modules that simply blow me away – the whole “Bugs & Blobs”-chapter is pure gold, and, with the exception of “Deep in the Vale”, “Men & Monstrosities” provides two of the most awesome modules herein. “Lycanthropes & Elementals” falls short of the average quality of the book, ranking in as “only” a solid/good chapter. Still, that leaves a total of 6 modules herein, 9 if you include the conversions, that would receive my seal of approval without a single inch of hesitation.
Indeed, I maintain that the stellar modules herein outweigh the minor rough edges AND the modules that do not reach the apex of quality and imagination. “Of Ants & Men”, “Hidden Oasis & Temple of Thoth”, “The Dead From Above”, “Irtep’s Dish” and “Perils of Ghostwind Pass” alone are worth the asking price of this module – and these are the exceptional, NEW modules herein. The rest averages at a very good to good, with only “Deep in the Vale” being what I’d consider a bad module. To put that in perspective – that’s 13 pages. You still get so many awesome modules herein, that I cannot, in good faith, rate this lower than 5 stars – especially since the exceptional modules listed above absolutely deserve this rating and nothing below.
You can get this massive book here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!
Prefer Old-school? Here’s the S&W-version on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!
Finally, this is also available for 5th edtion, in two parts:
Quests of Doom (5th edition) Part I links: D20pfsrd.com’s shop.
Quests of Doom (5th edition) Part II links: D20pfsrd.com’s shop.
Finally, Frog God Games is currently running a kickstarter for the Northlands Saga, a massive level 1- 20 Viking AP – check it out here!
If you’re a 5th edition fan, you may want to know about their crowdfunding of Quests of Doom 2 here on the FGG-site!