The Fall of Mith: Mithos Manor (5e)
The first module in the Fall of Mith-series clocks in at 72 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 68 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Yes, before you ask – this is the start of an planned series, but for once, I wouldn’t advise in favor of waiting until the entire series is released, for the book utilizes a pretty clever suggested hook (which you should employ) that allows it to be seamlessly slotted into pretty much any setting or ongoing series of adventures you choose/currently play. The module is also entirely self-contained.
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreon supporters. Furthermore, the adventure was moved ahead beyond that due to me receiving a hardcover copy of the adventure. My review is based on both the print version and the pdf.
So, before we dive into this adventure’s content, let me state that this module does a whole series of things rather well – first of all, the adventure includes two archives, each of which contains 6 maps of the eponymous manor – 6 for day, and 6 for nightfall. The module even includes instructions to print them out for use with 1’’-squares, something I genuinely haven’t seen before and really appreciate. Speaking of maps: The manor is pretty massive, and the maps come in a hand-drawn, artistic and pleasant style – in full-color! Even better: Guess what? They come as properly player-friendly maps! The print outs (and yes, these are included in the pdf/book not only do not have the annoying room numbers that break immersion, the module goes one step further! Know how sucky it is to have secret door indicators on player-maps? Well, this module has them purged completely. No door indicated! Awesome! How detailed are the maps? When you zoom in on the tables in e.g. the kitchen, you can see different dishes (!!) on the table. I am not kidding. That is some seriously next-level mojo here. I could recite a list of long-time publishing companies whose cartography can’t hold a candle to this and its map-support. If you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you’ll know that this is a pretty big deal for me.
This general notion of going a step beyond also extends to quite a few other components. For example, to the read-aloud text – there is plenty of that to go around, and its quality is high. There is plenty of additional indicators to go around, and the module has a couple of sidequests for the characters to engage in – where these sidequests would modify the circumstances, they come with their own “sidebars, titled with the appropriate indicators. Thus, if the party completed sidequest x, they get bonus read-aloud text z. When they are accompanied by a certain character, the character will behave according to their personality, potentially helping the party with secret compartments, warning of traps, etc. – the like has been consistently implemented, which is particularly amazing in the final encounter, where more than one entire column is devoted to such if/then-clauses. I applaud this, since it accounts for the consequences of the party’s actions without just relegating this responsibility to the GM.
The artwork density follows a simple paradigm of plentiful, almost decadent coverage, and that would be artworks – the book comes with a quite excessive bestiary section, which features not only an array of new adversaries, all with their own artworks, but also a ton of NPCs. The latter fall in two categories – one would be the rank-and-file people, like guards, watch initiates, etc. – these people? Even they come with their own artworks! There also are 4 NPC “Heroes” – these people receive particularly impressive artworks, with Jasper Mithos, who lends his name to the manor, receiving a gorgeous full-page artwork – it’s a glorious piece. Oh, and one of these “heroes”? Well, said entity comes in two different statblocks – transitioning the creature from one to the other is a sidequest – and yep, we get full-color artworks for both of them. And they are very much different from each other! On an aesthetic level, this looks like a book on par with established, large publishers, and does pretty much everything right – including a concise and unique visual identity.
What do I mean by that? Well, if the cover was not enough of an indicator, the aesthetics of the book tend to be a bit further developed than the usual premise of quasi-medieval or early modern fantasy that we get to see; the uniform and dressing habits tend to hearken closer to a fantasy approximation of (post-) Edwardian aesthetics; this is definitely intended, as e.g. the manor featuring an observatory and its layout reflecting this identity. Before you put down the module and consider it anachronistic, let me state that this has a conceit that makes this seamlessly slot into pretty much any fantasy world. I’ll get to that in the SPOILER-section. For now, let us state that this module won’t wreck the carefully-cultivated aesthetics of your game.
There are a couple of additional things to note, for the module offers quite a lot of additional, rules-relevant material, including 3 feats that represent having received training by the people of Mith. These, unfortunately, showcase one of the weaknesses of the adventure – rules-editing. Mithian Watch Training refers to “Attacks of opportunity”, when that should be “opportunity attacks” in 5e; worse, the Mithian Mystic Training feat labors under the erroneous assumption that there is such a thing as caster level in 5e. There is not. The formatting and verbiage employed also showcase the designer’s inexperience with adherence to the verbiage – which is a bit of a bummer, for the feats conceptually are nice. This being a bit of a bummer even more so applies to the magic items and non-magic items present within; we have an armor sans small table; “automatically deals counts as…” and glitches like that. On the plus-side, you won’t need to flip books – e.g. potions of healing and the like have their effects noted within. Close reading these, we can see another rookie mistake here – item references in text are not properly formatted – they should be in italics. Speaking of italics – this module hits a formatting pet-peeve of mine that really hurt me.
You see, the adventure features something I really adore: Magic items that grow in power with the characters. I’ve time and again spoken out in favor of this, and the book contains not 1, not 2, but 8 (!!) such weapons, the gifts of the originals. Before you start sweating – only one may be attained in the module. Why include stats for all 8? There is an excellent reason for that, to which I will come in the SPOILER-section below. We also get 4 shards of creation and a unique armor that feature the same type of progression. In case you were wondering: Level 1, 5, 7, 11, 17 and 20 unlock new benefits. Now, this is an aesthetic peculiarity, but on a design-level, these items tend to provide a lot of fixed bonuses to checks, damage and saving throws. We’ll have to see how that progresses over the course of the series, as these boosts could negatively impact the bounded accuracy paradigm of 5e-design, but I have a pretty strong suspicion that the bonuses are actually intentionally included here. Why? Once more, I’ll get to that in the SPOILER-section.
All of the artifacts come with their own, stunning artworks in full-color, and they have in common that I really, you know, want to wield them in battle. What does this have to do with aforementioned pet-peeve? The rules-text of the items is, out of some god-forsaken reason, all in italics, and gets formatting consequently all wrong. When your regular text, out of some unfathomable reason (don’t get why) is already in italics, how do you designate spells? Well, the book doesn’t – at least not consistently. Sometimes, the spell references in the tables are capitalized instead, but not always, the rules language to indicate the spell-slot used of spells with variable levels is consistently ODD – functional, but wrong in a way that really irked me. Hit Die/Dice are not properly capitalized either – in short, the formatting/editing here is, alas, not as good as in the module section.
This unfortunately does compromise the integrity of a couple of components somewhat; not badly, mind you, but it’s there. Alas, this is not the only time that the rules-consistency/editing check was botched here – and here, the botch is more severe than formatting. The per se impressive bestiary section deviates in a formal criteria from the standards, in that it lists all saving throws, which is cosmetic, granted. What’s not cosmetic, however, would be the Call to the Past or Crippling Touch features that two creatures have – one is the BBEG, the other is a challenge 5 rank and file adversary to face. Alas, the rank-and-file dude? He has the boss’ version of the features! This nets the rank and file dude two regular forms of attack – and one that is vastly superior in damage output, saving throw DC required to resist it, and so one. How bad is this?
RAW, the challenge 5 dude can target a creature it can see within 30 ft. to take 12d6 psychic damage and become frightened, with a DC 20 saving throw to resist the condition and halve damage. Heck, it’s so obvious, the ability even refers to the BBEG by NAME. Additionally, references to the “Dodge” action and similar action types are not properly capitalized. A swarm has two identical actions that state “swarm has more than half HP” – pretty sure one of these should have had different effects and state “swarm has less than half HP.” These glitches are particularly jarring, for, apart from them, I genuinely loved the bestiary section – each creature comes with well-written lore, and the statblocks generally tend to offer a rules-integrity that was refreshing to see – math checks out, etc. This renders the nasty cut-copy-paste glitches and formatting hiccups even more jarring; without these major blunders, this’d be a neat reference for how it’s done. As provided, though, these do mar the module, particularly because this is a hard module.
Nominally, this is intended for 5th level characters, and it works as written – however, there will not be much long resting going on, as the adventure takes place over the course of a single day. Conserving resources is crucial. Moreover, aforementioned heroes I mentioned? The party will need their aid; as such, it is important for the GM to try not to gloryhound; the heroes are powerful, yes – more potent than the party, but the module actually succeeds in making the party’s decision matter. As for the genre, I’d consider this to be a refreshingly difficult survival scenario that is thoroughly invested with aesthetics of high fantasy.
To elaborate further on the adventure, I will need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
So, high fantasy? How can a high fantasy module fit into a grittier context? Well, the book’s central hook to get the party involved would be that they meet a dwarven storyteller in-game, who proceeds to tell them about fabled Mith – and thus, the party suddenly finds themselves in strange shores, in front of a manor, where they’re expected. The reactions of the NPCs, referring to them by strange names for cultures should drive home that they are part of a story or fallen through time. Unique: It is implied that e.g. dwarves eschew material wealth and the like – some nice lore hints here.
This hook also allows you to retain full control over the module’s impact on your campaign – the results could change the past, items could be retained in the real world or not (if you e.g. want to strip away the artifact attained), and if your party gets TPK’d, they may just awake from the story – or, you know, die. The GM retains full control here.
This notion also is reflected in something you might have missed – nomenclature! “Mith” does sound remarkably like “myth”, right? There’s a reason for that. Know how fantasy lore is littered with enlightened, once-potent cultures that have since then fallen? Well, Mith is one such culture, and this module depicts the initial stage of the myth, the one that initiates the fall of this proud cultures. This is also where the (pseudo-) Edwardian aesthetics blend well with the notion of experiencing such a culture first hand, where the visuals enhance the content – it makes sense to us to consider a “superior” culture as featuring aesthetics that are more “advanced” to our frame of reference. A big plus that sets the adventure apart is that it does not rely on technology or science-technology tropes to denote its advanced state. The nigh-utopian layout of the very manor, the enlightened reception of non-Mithians – they all tell the players that this is an enlightened, advanced culture without shoving it in their faces. This also allows the GM to portray the Mithians as worth saving and marveling at – while more conservative than even contemporary dwarves, the Mithians are a very good people, a vista of what an enlightened and kind humanity could be. Larger than life HEROES. It’s a small thing, but with the abundance of cynicism and inversion of tropes, this actually felt refreshing to me. And all of that without glorifying them as flawless – it’s an impressive feat of indirect storytelling and conveying the adventure’s lore.
This is also enhanced by the PCs meeting the grand heroes of the age: From the ruler Jasper Mithos (challenge 20, fyi) to his right-hand man and bodyguard Aramus Drake and the mighty mage Windle Glass, getting to know these legends is a great initial setting of the stage. Indeed, even if the PCs snoop around, they are at best, rebuked in a civil manner. The manor’s daytime scenes at banquet generate a honest appreciation for the Mithians – and perhaps some greed/envy, for even the regular guards have baton-like sticks of adamantine as weapons! These people are used to combat – and it soon will become apparent why such exceedingly potent weaponry is required, and why I believe that the massive power-boosts implied by the weaponry and items may be intentional for the overall saga.
You see, after the celebration, the PCs will retreat to their rooms – and night falls. On a thematic level and figuratively: The night turns the module into a harsh mistress – Mith manor is assaulted in the night, and by overwhelming force – shade ravens smash against the windows, evoking visuals of Hitchcock’s classic, and beyond that, the shades have attacked. These are not shadows – they are a threat more severe. For one, Mithians distrust anyone who has their back turned to them. Why? Shades may assume the forms of regular people, copying them perfectly. Well, almost – their eyes remain a stark, soulless, black. Rank and file enemies include a take on wendigo-like things that can infect targets with their cursed appetite and more potent shade infantry – which suffers from aforementioned glitch. Over the course of the assault on the massive manor, the characters are rewarded for exploration by meeting (and saving!) the heroes – the goal is to find Jasper Mith and evacuate what can be evacuated, which is actually harder than it sounds. Aramus and Windle, if found and helped, can aid the Gm in pointing the party towards components of the module, and a GM may also use them well to help save the characters.
Also: I kinda lied – there is a means to rest in the manor – if the PCs are smart, they can find a magic set-up that has time progress at regular speed, while slowing down the outside, basically a means to work/study more efficiently – this can be used to sneak in a limited one long rest – the party should better make it count! Speaking of making things count: The manor also contains a mighty crystal golem that the party can finish to help fight off the shade invasion – this golem is sentient and deadly, and its completed version can really help turn the tide of battle in the finale. (As an aside – a variant of the BBEG being attacked from behind by the finished golem is provided as a gorgeous full-page spread.) Also, in contrast to regular Mithian golems, it can learn from its mistakes – the inability to do so that besets the standard Mithian constructs is a pretty darn cool angle that can lead to seriously cool roleplaying, and that also makes the constructs feel more like, you know, constructs. It also mirrors and reinforces the conservative to a fault leitmotif.
Once the party finds jasper, he states that the shades are after one of the legendary gifts of the originals, aforementioned scaling items – and here’s the reason why there are so many included herein – while the book has a standard choice, the precise nature of the item can be switched to one of the other gifts. Clever! In the end, the party will hopefully get to escape, but there is one entity standing between them and victory – the drei. (Not, not the German word for “three.”) being the ruling-caste of the shades, and they are basically immortal and only risk death by their ilk when restoring their physical forms. No, really. You can temporarily beat them, but that’s it. Oh, and that drei? Challenge 20.Did your players help the heroes? Did they finish the golem? Well, it is here that all those modular things are taken into account. The drei is epic. There is one thing that is problematic here, though – the drei nets a metric ton of XP – and I am pretty sure that the PCs should not get its full 20K XP; advice on how much XP the PCs should get for beating the drei with their epic allies would have been appreciated. That being said, there is a pretty big chance of the PCs not managing to beat this fellow, perishing, or escaping by the skin of their teeth – and that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. 5e needs harder modules and adversaries. Also: the drei? It’s actually conglomerate thing fused out of (auto-)cannibalizing lesser shadelings with its own sentience, and thus has a feature, Cull the Weak, which lets it consume its underlings and heal up for phase two. Better yet: The module actually helps the GM run this complex encounter: The module lists damage inflicted by level, as well as a likely progression for combat by round. Oh, and if the party botched? Well, if for example only Windle Glass makes it to the finale, she’ll turn to the PCs, stating but one word: “Run!”
This is easily one of the most epic boss fights I’ve seen in 5e so far, and it’s executed with panache aplomb. Oh, and all those legends? They can die. The party literally is the factor that shapes the legends of Mith here, that determines whether these legendary heroes live through the assault on Mith manor. I love this. The module then concludes with the characters finding themselves back in the tavern, the dwarven storyteller gone – though XP and items that the GM deems proper retained – once more, maximum control for the GM over the campaign’s power-level. (As an aside – if you gravitate to lower-powered play, this module represents a great way to use high fantasy for a change of pace and then revert to your usual playstyle…just sayin’…)
Editing on a formal level in the module section is good; I noticed a few typo-level glitches, but not many. On a rules-language level, the book almost feels like the work of two people – there are some seriously nasty glitches in a key monster of the module, and the crunch-components like feats and the like tend to be somewhat awkward at least, and/or could have used some streamlining. The formatting is easily the worst part of the module – particularly in the rules-section, we have plenty of instances where spells, Hit Dice, etc. are not properly formatted. On the plus-side, this is a drop-dead gorgeous book – the layout is amazing, and the sheer density of original artworks is exceedingly impressive, much more so for adhering to its own unique style, and for establishing a genuinely unique visual identity. The 2-column layout further enhances this with use of 5e’s trade-dress, splotches and the like enhancing the feel of the book. Finally, the cartography is absolutely phenomenal; the fact that this goes the extra step for high-res jpgs and truly player-friendly maps is a huge plus and offsets some of the rookie-mistakes made in the formatting department. That being said, I strongly suggest getting this in print – for one, it is a beautiful book – and the pdf, in a decision I absolutely don’t get, has no bookmarks, making navigation of the electronic iteration a chore.
Tim Peterson and Jared Runyon have provided a more than positive surprise here for me. I expected yet another haunted manor and got so much more – a battle for survival, an escape, a brutal high-fantasy yarn. When I realized the light/dark-angle, I expected to be bored, and yet, the drei and their minions have managed to instill genuine curiosity and excitement in me. In fact, this gets a ton of things right from the get-go that even established publisher fail to properly get right after numerous tries. The unique lore interspersed throughout the module helps generate a sense of anticipation and excitement for more – I found myself very much wanting to know how the saga about the Fall of Mith continues, and I’m a jaded bastard. So yeah, particularly in light of this being a freshman offering, it is a remarkable achievement in its detail, in its map-support, lore and numerous other categories.
Alas, and that has to be stated explicitly, the module also suffers from a couple of severe glitches that impact its integrity. The XP-value of the BBEG, the monster statblock glitches, the wonky verbiage in the rules, the inconsistent and less than impressive formatting – there is a lot you can dislike, and some of these may be deal-breakers for you. Were I to rate this on the strength of its rules-integrity, it’d clock in at 3 stars at best; however, this is not just a rules book; it is an adventure, and in that aspect, it is an impressive achievement for an opening salvo. The module understands how to provide exposition without boring players in long text-dumps, preferring to show them, and by using notions such as dichotomous thinking, tropes and language itself to convey meaning, a notion employed too consistently herein to be mere coincidence. In short: This does the aspect of modular storytelling ridiculously well, and the various components gel together incredibly well. Moreover, the number of modular things that can happen make this one of the modules that has serious replay value. Indeed, you could, courtesy of the primary hook, play this module again after a TPK – just interject “that’s not how it happened” and rewind – it may be a cop out and not something either I or the module endorse, but it’s an interesting angle you can use to salvage the characters, should you choose to.
Let me make that abundantly clear – this would be a 5 star + seal of approval adventure, were it not for its issues and hiccups; with them, I just can’t go higher than 4 stars. If you are not comfortable with dealing with aforementioned rough patches in the mechanics, then I have to advise you to steer clear; if you, however, have the system mastery (and it doesn’t take too much of that) to clear up the gameplay-influencing bugs, you’ll be rewarded with one epic adventure – provided the formatting snafus don’t irk you. For me, as a person, this would receive my seal of approval because I have no problem tweaking/fixing the snafus, but as written, as an official reviewer’s perspective, I just can’t award that here. I seriously hope I’ll get to see a sequel soon; I want to see more about the Fall of Mith; I also hope that the Tim P. GMing team will take this criticism to heart and further enhance their rules-fu in the future to the point where it matches the quality of lore, concepts and aesthetic presentation – this has the chance to become one of those really amazing gems. If you’re an experienced GM and the above seems even remotely appealing, check this out – you will not be disappointed.
You can get this beautiful module here on OBS!
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