The S’rulyan Vault (system neutral)
The S’rulyan Vault (system neutral)
So, before we get into it – let me make one thing abundantly clear: This is NOT a regular gaming supplement. Instead, this is one massive blue-white old-school map. The gigantic map is intended for the massive size of 34” times 44” and it comes in two high-res iterations – one in the classic blue and white and one in full-color and a parchment-style look.
Now this would not be Kort’thalis Publishing if the massive map didn’t have some fun details showing up – cartographer Glynn Seal has included, among others, tentacles, clearly visible and erupting from pits and walls, black holes, magical vortices, sarcophagi, obviously magical circles and the like. The pdf does have grids and between the rooms, decorative skeletons of dragons can be seen in the earth. The vault itself provides a great selection of artificially created rooms as well as natural caverns and pools connected with subterranean tunnels, rifts and the like make for an inspiring dungeon – the map is one of the kind that you can put before an experienced GM and just watch him or her improvise a great game around – so yeah, the main selling-point of this product is excellent.
One note, though – if you’re using a lot of mobile devices and the like, you should be aware of the fact that the high-res maps clock in at over 20 MBs for the blue-white-version, over 100 mbs for the parchment version.
Okay, that out of the way, the product does come with a pdf – this pdf clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 15 pages. One of these pages is devoted to a nice char-sheet and one page is devoted to notes.
The pdf depicts the history of the S’rulyan Vault, speaking of the rise of a champion of mankind, the pact of the horrid snake-men with the demon lord S’rul…and how a band of brave adventurers defeated the snake-men just as they were about to exterminate mankind. They achieved this feat with the Helm of Power, a mighty relic…and three adventurers emerged…their children and heirs taking the mantles of kingdoms. One of these, alas, has reawakened S’rul…and the genocidal plans of the demon and its powerful allies once again are in full motion.
1 million gold pieces are the ostensible reward for the demon’s head…so who will claim it? Okay, this back-story is AWESOME. Cheesy and cliché in just the right ways to evoke classic tropes. The pdf provides 10 sample motivations to make the quest personal and 12 rumors are provided to add more local color to the proceedings. There even is read-aloud text for the facade of the dungeon and advice on the chance for random encounters.
The pdf then proceeds to provide a d20 table of random things that can be found – treasure, traps, monsters, discovery, science-fantasy gizmos – the like. But, you know, since this is not a module, but more of a geomorph, these remain somewhat opaque, which slightly hampers their impact. The pdf also provides a 20-entry generator for the behavior of encountered humanoids, and a 100-entry table of strange things to find – from platinum pieces to toe clippings and weird vials or erotic lithographies, the treasure table is a definite highlight herein.
As the PCs explore the vault, they will find a weird brotherhood – men that claim that the world has ended in the meanwhile – and RAW, there is a 50% chance the world has indeed ended, with 4 sample cataclysms provided, in case you can’t make up your own. A snake-men spy, 12 sample magic item treasures are also in here…and may make some purists scowl: A dagger +3 with a 1 in 4 chance of making a target hit a sentient ooze (no save) will probably annoy new-school fans for not sporting a save, old-school purists for its plusses. These aren’t bad, mind you, but they could use some refinement and suffer from the quasi-system-neutral approach. 3 sample artifacts and relics follow and, oddly, one actually sports a save. Indeed, the rules for these are actually better – perhaps due to the extended space allotted to them. An 8-entry table of cursed item modifications can also be found here.
The final section of the pdf contains a fortunes/fortune-reading generator: D4 for the fortune teller, d12 for the means of reading fortunes, d10 and d8 for the two components of the reading itself, d6 for the third part of the reading…and d20 for the price the fortune teller expects.
Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout of the pdf adheres to an elegant, nice 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf does come with great b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The maps are excellent high-res jpgs – Glynn Seal’s cartography is excellent here.
Venger As’ Nas Satanis’ and Glynn Seal’s S’rulyan Vault is a glorious map, let me make that abundantly clear. It is not particularly inexpensive, but if you enjoy evocative maps, it is most certainly worth getting.
That being said, the accompanying pdf is less focused than what we usually get from Venger: The pdf can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a hyper-specific, detailed adventure-outline or a highly-generic collection of various generators. These are not bad, mind you, but everything in the pdf never really clicks together, never forms a cohesive whole. The *parts* are pretty much amazing when they are specific…and when they are generic, they feel suddenly like they have less gravitas…resulting in a somewhat strange disjoint in the internal flavor.
Now, since his product is billed *primarily* as the map, I am going to rate it as such – and as a map, it is a very good offering. At the same time, I found myself wishing there was a version sans the hidden tunnel below the pool, for example. The pdf is a nice bonus, but not enough to catapult this to the level I’d consider excellent. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.
You can get this map + dressing-booklet here on OBS!
Thanks for the review, hoss! Actually, my stuff is usually unfocused – from the perspective of new school / Pathfinder. Too tightly focused and some of the magic is lost, I find.
Before I go, The S’rulyan Vault II is already in the works. Should be out by August. 😉
See, I wouldn’t say this – Take a look at Revelry or IoPHP or at SoT – these very much are focused. They are sandboxes, yes, but they’re not unfocused.
The problem with the TSV-dressing book, in my opinion at least, is that it tries to be two things at once: A hyper-specific adventure-sketch with the appropriate dressing, and a super-generic geomorph-dressing book. I’m not saying that it couldn’t have been both, but the general geomorph-dressing is weak in comparison to the more specific tables, and the specific ones suffer and don’t gain much from the inclusion of the more broadly applicable ones.
I don’t think the issue here is new-school (though you seem to be fond of that dichotomy), but rather that the book tries to be two things at once and suffers at both attempts due to this split focus.
To give you an example: It’s a bit as though Carcosa suddenly had a couple of pages in the middle, depicting a very specific culture in lavish detail and some tables for non-specific science-fantasy. Both would have felt weird and taken away from the page-count, split the focus of the book.
While I can understand the cognitive dissonance a product like mine will create, it’s the surprising, gonzo, non-standard, grab-bag variety of tools that make it what it is.
I find myself moving away from Revelry in Torth and The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence because, beloved as they are, a looser grip holds more fruit. It is the inspirational seeds I’m trying to sow at the moment, rather than a tightly focused structure.
One day, maybe I’ll go back to that type of scenario… or perhaps there will be a middle ground. Only time will tell. 😉