The Corwyn Catacombs (5e) (Patreon Request)
The freshman offering by Magnificent Creations clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a print copy of the adventure; the print copy is saddle-stitched, uses matter paper for the cover and thick, glossy paper inside, and generally feels professional in its presentation. I have also consulted the pdf-version for this review.
Okay, so the module is nominally set on the continent of Tyllia – a part of the continent’s map is included in the appendix, including a table that lists the respective deities, their alignment, symbol and domains; species like dragonborn etc. are also contextualized, noting the most likely geographical origin, as well as “Your character might be from…” The implied setting has a couple of interesting notions, such as a Witcher-esque “humans are relatively new” angle or the Warhammer-like notion of orcs (called “Aurx” here) being able to subsist on photosynthesis and being pretty civilized. Nothing I haven’t seen before, but a promising step away from the defaults.
Cool: The module does not only adhere to 5e-formatting conventions properly, it also explains them to the reader/GM. Indeed, this does extend to the presentation of the two new monsters herein – apart from a blank space missing consistently between e.g. “60” and “ft.”, a true nitpick, granted. However, the statblocks do sport a couple of peculiarities that bear mentioning: For one, proficiency bonus is explicitly listed, which is not usually something you do; this might be chalked up to the nature of these monsters, though – as we’ll see below, there could be a justification at play here based on narrative, one that explains why they have a higher proficiency bonus than usual for their challenge rating. Unfortunately, this excuse ceases to work once we get to skills, saving throws and passive Perception: With a +0 Wisdom modifier and a +4 proficiency bonus, I can’t fathom how you arrive at passive Perception 11. Similarly, even if we’d assume double proficiency bonus as an option, an Intelligence saving throw of +7 does not check out for +0 Intelligence modifier and a +4 proficiency bonus. Same applies for spell save DCs. I am also not happy with an attack being called “chill touch”, when it has a range of 120 ft. That’s a bad ability name, as it sounds like the spell – and I assume that that’s what it’s supposed to be, but I’m not sure. When one looks at the default stats, spells are usually not formatted this way. Damage and hit points in 5e also round down, not up, which means that the average damage values of the creature are off by one. As for spell attacks: They oddly seem to be using Strength as governing ability score to determine their atk, which is not how things are done in 5e. One of the new creatures has Multiattack and two attack options – a Slam and Touch of Death. The latter is vastly superior to the former, which is why I’d assume that a substitution clause, such as in the chimera’s statblock, would have been appropriate here. Finally, monster-HD-dice in 5e are tied to size, so a Medium creature with d6 HD is incorrect. So yeah, as well-executed as the formatting etc. is, the monster statblocks are not up to par.
On the other hand, the 4 new magic items included are nice, and include one particular item that grants additional powers when more items of its set are found; the capstone ability for this set is artifact-plus-level strong, and obviously is intended more for story/capstone purposes – while it does not feature in this module, it is nice to have as an idea. The book also features a nice “Wanted!”-poster (no mugshot)-style handout, which is presented as a nice jpg as well in the print version. Odd: There is an artwork showing a letter that the party can find, but said letter is not presented as a handout. Struck me as weird, considering that the artwork is already here.
The adventure per se is a pretty straightforward exploration of a linear dungeon, but it does sport more than one theme and has more to offer than just combat. Difficulty-wise, this probably won’t result in TPKs if your players are halfway smart. The module is intended for 4 to 5 4th level characters, and can be completed in one session, as advertized. The map of the complex explored herein is functional, focusing on room-dimensions and not including statues or specific features. It also lacks a scale noted. Additionally, there is no player-friendly map to copy, cut up, and hand out as the party explores, or for use in Roll20, Fantasy Grounds, etc. That’s a bummer for me, as I do hate drawing maps and REALLY suck at it. Plus, being able to hand out the map just speeds up the game so much. Finally, it should be noted that the adventure does come with read-aloud text, and a big plus would be that NPCs like smiths, bartenders, etc. get sections mentioning their appearance, mannerisms & personality and motivation – kudos there! Information design is also above average, with bullet-pointed lists allowing the GM to precisely and quickly get a grasp on treasure etc.
All right, and this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the plot of this adventure is a basic “Timmy fell down the well”-scenario – the party is asked to save the boy Hector on behalf of his cartwright mother, as he is prone to wandering too close to the taboo catacombs. Another party has recently vanished there, and once the party arrives, things seem to be pretty straightforward: The first couple of rooms depict the squalid and impromptu home of a small goblin tribe in exile, including their bugbear chief – this is, alas, where the information design, otherwise precise, becomes obtuse: You have to deduce the amount of goblins actually present and available from the read-aloud text, and no helpful bolding is presented to quickly parse the information. “Handful” is also not exactly precise. While hostile, the goblins may be cowed into providing information – which is another somewhat odd aspect: The module goes to above-average lengths to portray them as more then just foes to slaughter, and yet, RAW, Charisma (Intimidation) (not properly formatted here) is the only means to avoid combat. If you already depict them this way, why not allow the paty to negotiate between them and the local town? Come to think of it, that’d have been a more interesting adventure-premise to me. But I digress.
Ultimately, the goblins have dug into an old complex, which includes a riddle door: The riddle here deserves special mention, as it feels classic, is clever, and is not based on a pun – that means I could actually translate it into German, French, Norwegian, etc.! Another plus: The riddle’s references make sense within the gaming world’s context. So yeah, kudos there! The module does include means to brute-force the door, if required.
The party’s investigation into the complex will yield the remains of former adventurers, as well as things activated by accident – one of the new monsters, the chiran servitor, who is pretty nasty. Ultimately, the party can find Hector, who has one of two mysterious globes: These act as keys for the final (and completely optional) room, wherein the gorgeous fellow on the cover awaits – that’d be a Chiran, a very powerful progenitor race who escaped a cataclysm via stasis. This master of necromancy essentially is the secret boss of this adventure, and constitutes the second new creature. As noted above, the nature of Chiran and servitor might account for the irregular proficiency bonus, but not the other errors in the statblocks.
Editing and formatting on a formal level are very good; apart from the number of goblins being obtuse and some very minor niggles, I was duly impressed here. The same does not hold true for the rules-language, which generally is precise, but particularly in the statblocks, falls flat. Layout deserves special mention: The NPC-depiction, the bullet pointed rooms – they really help render the module easy to use, and look professional and well-crafted – kudos! The artwork by Izzy Collins is similarly a component of this module that pleasantly surprised me; they are full-color, high-quality pieces, and e.g. the aurx mayor gets their own artwork. Kudos! The pdf version comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks, and, as mentioned above, the print version I have received is rather nice indeed – certainly more impressive than many comparable adventures I own.
Jake Bhattacharyya’s freshman offering is promising in many, many ways: While structurally, the adventure is nothing special, it does a lot of things right from the get-go that many comparable publications botch: The information design (with the exception of the goblins) is better than usual, though e.g. the keys could use some highlighting in the text. The NPCs getting notes on mannerisms, motivation, etc. is a great angle as well. And while the dungeon itself is not exactly a jamais-vu-experience, it does manage to cover two distinct themes, and the notion of the new creatures is intriguing as well. In many ways, this feels like a test-run, like a teaser or prologue for things to come, and like a means to test various components and decisions – and, for the most part, I consider this to be successful in several instances. At the same time, the module does not capitalize on the unique components of the setting in social interactions, and the issues in the statblocks are something I expect to be rectified in future offerings.
That being said, if you’re looking for an inexpensive adventure for a single session and want to support a promising new publisher, then this is worth checking out – I could certainly think of several adventures that don’t do half as well as this one. My final verdict will be 3 stars.
You can get this little adventure here on OBS!
If you consider my reviews helpful, consider leaving a donation, or joining my patreon here. Thank you.