To Slay a Dragon
This mega-adventure clocks in at 150 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page monster/NPC-index (handy), 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 143 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was requested as a non-prioritized review by my patreons.
The focus of this module is something that should provide no surprises for the GM or players – it’s to kill a dragon. The adventure comes with notes on character advancement and tables of Quest Xp-awards for the PCs, conveniently collated in a table. The module takes place in the rural county of Holdenshire and starts in the village Hengistbury, which comes with proper village stats, though these do sport a formatting deviation from the standard – but that as an aside. We begin this adventure with basically a gazetteer of the village, which goes into details, including tavern menu for the Bleeding Heart tavern, notes on locations of interest and fluffy write-ups of the NPCs featured – these btw. include a good hill giant, Ugg, who is a kind of mascot for the village. The massive cast of characters here is impressive and their full-color mugshots are nice – however, if you’re planning on running Zeitgeist, then these may irk you: Not only is there overlap in the nomenclature of NPCs, the art assets employed here have also been used in the Zeitgeist AP. It’s a purely aesthetic thing and will not influence my final verdict, but it is something that irked me.
After a brief bit of introductory prose, the adventure becomes pretty free-form, with several (11) quests and a full page of rumors providing plenty of adventuring potential.
However, to go into details here, I’ll have to dive into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the quests per se are interesting – they e.g. deal with an evil fey dubbed spring-heeled jack, kidnapping kids. They feature a werewolf; dealing with a troll under a bridge, caravan duty, dealing with some lizardfolk and a green hag, a retribution for a prank that went too far, dealing with a manslayer particularly fond of traps, accompanying someone on chimera-safari – the quests, idea-wise, are interesting and feature copious amounts of read-aloud text – they are, thankfully, not the basic and bland ogre/shadow-slaying standard level 1-quest. That being said, they do, at one point, start feeling like filler – the quests are all very brief and while they mention terrain, skills, etc., they don’t sport encounter maps or the like and almost always boil down to: “PCs venture forth, find villain, dispose of villain.” – They are basically a series of boss fights. They are a good series of boss fights with interesting foes, but yeah – structurally, I would have loved to see a bit more variety. Though there is one interesting task: Finding a poltergeist and freeing her requires a bit more than brawns and the quest is supplemented with a basic map of the ruined keep that’s haunted – this quest is also pretty much non-optional, for it provides one of the tools the PCs will definitely need…
As soon as the PCs have reached 3rd level, they will hear of kobolds kidnapping a girl – hunting them down provides the catalyst for the main-quest – Lord Pemberton bestows the sword secured in the ruin-adventure to the PCs. The sword is called Dragonbane and is a +3 wounding dragon bane greatsword. Which nets +4 to saves against breath weapons, SPs and spells cast by dragons. And critical hits cause an additional “2d10 holy damage” against dragons – this damage type does not exist in PFRPG. On a nitpicky, aesthetic side, the weapon’s write-up also lacks some italicizations. On a less nitpicky side, you can probably glean one issue of the module. That’s a 90K weapon for 3rd level characters. For comparison: The suggested 3rd-level PC-value is 3K gold. And unlike many a artifact, the blade does not come with a drawback or the like – apart from the promise to slay the red dragon Cirothe.
This leads into Act II of the mega-adventure, the section that is about doing the eponymous deed. In order to defeat the dragon, the PCs will have to explore through the massive wilderness, collecting 4 items: The coward’s map (so named for the dwarves that fled Cirothe), said to be in the hands of the Fedap clan. The hammer of vengeance remains in the dwarven fortress Deephall Point – Cirothe devastated the fortress and left it to giants – ostensibly due to this mighty weapon. The quiver of the dragon’s bane is said to have been developed by the elves of Greendell Forest – though their sage has been lost in dubious circumstances. Finally, the PCs will need to find Cirothe’s true name – something only known to the by now mad fairy queen of Greyfell Forest. Each of these quests sports three steps – progress in them is measured by stars. The further the PCs are, the more stars they’ll have assembled. Here’s the issue: You roll the dragon die each day, which simulates Cirothe’s actions – this would be a d20 and you add the total number of stars and consult a table: On 20+, Cirothe flies forth, which means that the PCs will at least encounter more kobolds; from 21 to 32, each entry in a corresponding table denotes one or more areas utterly destroyed by the dragon. While this is intended to simulate the assault of the dragon and the devastation caused, it does come with a bit of an issue: What if the PCs are in the respective town? There is a solid chance for that to happen and the adventure tens to relegate these instances to off-screen events, replacing destroyed places with ruins inhabited by kobolds.
The chapter also employs injury and illness rules – which are tacked on and make not much sense within the context of PFRPG. Illness reduces, for example, maximum hit points – and oddly, both types can’t be healed with magics. Which makes no sense within the context of the system. The wilderness section also introduces a decent way of tracking overland supplies. As a whole, I considered both to be a bit cumbersome and, ultimately, superfluous. The settlements featured, just fyi, lack settlement statblocks.
Anyways, the quests themselves are pretty interesting in their concepts: For the coward’s map, the PCs will have to break an alliance between orcs and bandits and liberate the town; after that, the PCs will have to break the orc horde besieging Halfpoint and finally wrest a mace from nasty ogres to trade for the map. It should be noted that this quest’s first segment also represents the start of the quiver-questline.
The quiver quest focuses on aforementioned elven sage, one Sonina, getting the unicorn king kidnapped – freeing him from the goblinoids is not easy. Once he has been freed, the problem remains – the sage needs the poison of the intelligent queen of a race of smart spiders!
In order to secure the hammer, the PCs will have to test their mettle by presenting the head of a troll elder to one Theobod – he tells the PCs about a route to Deephall Point, which is now held by a few cave giants. Ultimately, the PCs will have to destroy a rift crystal and thus secure another tool.
The quest for Cirothe’s true name deals with the PCs first trying to rescue an elf from the mad plant-creatures within Greyfell forest – if they do, the elf’s master will tell them where to find the mad fairy queen’s castle – in order to get there, the PCs will have to pass a drowhold and finally convince the queen to tell the PCs Cirothe’s true name.
Okay, so what do these items do? The Coward’s Map can show the PCs the way to any place noted – and conceals them from Cirothe and her minions; the quiver coats arrows in dragonvenom – this means that hits auto-crit and “lower all of the creatures defenses by 5” – whatever that is supposed to mean. Rules-language this is not. The hammer auto-dispels all spell effects on the dragon on a failed DC 25 Will-save and costs the dragon 1d8 spell-levels per hit. When the dragon’s true name is spoken, the speaker can dictate the actions of Cirothe for one round. Each speaker may only use the name once and never relearn it. The quiver is btw. a “back slot” item – guess what doesn’t exist in PFRPG? Bingo. A back slot.
This section is btw. also complemented with a massive array of random encounters, treasure generation tables, etc. You may note one thing: From this vast amount of quests and their ideas and a quick glance at the page-count, you’ll notice that all of these cannot possibly e fully detailed. You’d be correct. There are no maps provided for them and while different plans and PC-actions are noted, all aspects of the adventure remain sketch-like – the module presents a cool idea, a couple of suggested strategies and stats – the rest is up to you. Personally, I don’t mind that too much, but it’s something to bear in mind. The wealth of ideas may be, at least a bit, too much – one quest less and instead more details regarding the quests themselves would have probably done the adventure good.
Act III, finally, is about climbing the active volcano Skull Mountain, entering the dragon’s lair and slaying Cirothe. The volcano comes with a great, full-color side-view and venture down skull mountain. There also is a really nice isometric map – but unlike many comparable maps by EN Publishing, this module does not sport a layer that lets you turn off the annoying numbers, secret door indicators, etc. – that would be a comfort detriment. Now, to give the adventure credit: Cirothe is a fearsome beast. At CR 14, we have an adult red dragon here. She is significantly more powerful than anything the PCs could hope to deal with sans the artifacts. Speaking of which: They cause their wielders to fail the first save against a red dragon’s breath – and said breath destroys them. While this allows the GM to get rid of them easily, an autofail save can mean instant death for many characters. The dragon’s superior power in the final encounter is offset by the name – basically, the PCs get 1 round per character knowing the name of free pot-shots…which makes the final encounter anticlimactic rocket-launcher tag. If the dragon can kill off the PCs before they lock her, she wins; if the PCs manage to lock her, they can potentially have a pretty easy battle on their hands – a decent sniper can, with the autocrit quiver, take down the dragon in a round, provided the “defense lowering” applies to AC. In short: Instead of an epic battle, we get a briefer altercation. If the artifacts focused more on defense instead of offense, the whole battle would have imho been more exciting.
On the plus-side: We get a COLOSSAL dragon’s hoard spanning multiple pages. The pdf also provides a couple of notes for dealing with the colossal wealth, though, frankly, that train’s probably gone, considering the potent blade. I strongly suggest keeping this a contained one-shot campaign.
Editing and formatting on a formal level, are very good. On a rules-language level, the same can’t always be said – from some wonky subsystems to a couple of issues with terminology that directly influence the integrity of the rules, there are some issues here. Layout adheres to a nice, two-column full-color standard – the pdf is layered, allowing you to take away the used-paper look and making the pdf more printer-friendly. Artworks are a combination of stock and re-used assets. The modules sports a few maps that range from really cool (Act III) to decent – they are in full-color, but we get no player-friendly versions for any of the maps.
To Slay a Dragon, penned by Russ Morrissey, Jacob Driscoll and Christopher J. Herbert, with additional text by Brian Casey, is per se an epic take on the “Kill the super-powerful dragon” trope. That being said, it is one that falls short in a couple of the details: The adventure shows in several instances a disregard for some rules of the game, which is annoying; the WBL-breaking, if used in a continuous campaign, can be problematic. More jarring, at least to me, would be that the adventure, ultimately, feels almost like it’s…not really done? It’s a strange feeling, but from the lack of maps of a majority of the environments to the massive scope, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this tries to provide too much.
Don’t get me wrong – the respective quest-lines in Act II are really cool and fun…but they remain sketch-like, opaque, and require serious GM-work to fully flesh them out. Significantly more so than in the big APs by EN Publishing. When run as written, a significant amount of this module will feel like a sequence of montages. Cool ones, yes – but ultimately, this adventure feels like it could, and probably should, have spanned more pages – 50 to 100. Act III is more detailed; Act I, ultimately, is lead-in level-up filler and doesn’t really contribute that much to the overall proceedings. Structurally, this falls short of the promise that its ideas deserve. I also have an issue with the way in which the final encounter will boil down, at least to an extent, to rocket-launcher tag, courtesy of the artifacts assembled. A properly-built ranged weapon specialist could theoretically solo Cirothe when handled properly and getting halfway lucky. I get and applaud that the artifacts allow the PCs to deal with a proper dragon – I like that! I just maintain that defensive artifacts would have made the final showdown much more rewarding. Speaking of which: If you’re lucky/unlucky, the dragon die-mechanic, while interesting, can really screw over the PCs. A more nuanced cat and mouse game between PCs and dragon would have probably been more rewarding.
Is this module bad? No! If you want a cool set-up for an against-the-dragon campaign, then this should provide what you’re looking for; just be aware that you’ll need to do some serious work fleshing things out – and redesign the artifacts/rules-relevant components. I will rate this module for what it is; if you want go-play/minimum fuss adventuring, detract another star. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.
You can get this massive adventure here on OBS!