This module clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This adventure is intended for characters level 3 – 5, and, as far as old-school modules go, is dangerous, but not a meat-grinder – though there is one instance that can be considered to be brutal. It still should be noted that death is very much possible, and that a well-rounded party is recommended, with particularly a remove curse being a recommended thing to have. The adventure takes place in the Whisper Vale introduced in Whisper & Venom, and uses the same rules – descending AC, HD-ratings, etc. – use in most OSR games should not be an issue. While it can be used as a stand-alone adventure, it does lose a bit of its impact when divorced from Whisper & Venom. As a minor nitpick: The pdf’s formatting is a bit off, using primarily bolding for everything – magic items, statblocks, etc., while italics are generally not employed.
The adventure features no read-aloud text, and if you do use it in conjunction with Whisper & Venom, I suggest using it as either an epilogue of sorts, or when the PCs are moving towards the end of the module, to avoid spoiling one of the most effective scenes in the big book.
The pdf contains a total of 3 different encounter tables for different regions in the vale, an appendix containing 5 monsters, and something that was a hugely pleasant surprise to me: PLAYER-FRIENDLY MAPS. Not only the gorgeous isometric full-color pieces of the vale, but also of the respective adventure-locales! Awesome! The artworks herein, which often are full-color, are btw. ALSO provided as handouts – a total of 5 of these are provided!
All right, that’s a good start, so let’s see whether the module can hold up…but in order to do that, I will have to go into serious SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
Jarls Mitby has gone missing – and just after he had been incarcerated for ostensibly having an affair with a landowner’s daughter. That is a nice little rumor, and piece of local color. A capable GM can seed another component at one point – namely that Jarls had only 3 fingers left on one hand. This becomes relevant, and allows for a brief investigation lead-in for this one…for Jarls, alas, has met his end.
The tale of this module, is one of retired adventurer Færgo Cromworth, the best tracker around – who has found something that he shouldn’t have. As the PCs find his burned down cabin, the body left in its smoldering ruin will be Jarls, and two different trails can be followed by capable PCs towards where Færgo now is – provided they survive the resident dire wolves attracted to the ruins’ remnants. (And yes, the scene is one of the handouts, providing a visual clue – cool!
You see, Færgo has become the eponymous “First Sentinel”, and two paths lead to his watch-post – one with a rigged rockfall, and the other leading through a cavern inhabited by cave imps, which represent one of the most dangerous encounters in the module, and the most problematic. You see, the cave imps’ battleground features more holes than Swiss cheese, and the humanoids favor hit-and-run attacks. Considering the different means of tackling initiative for different OSR-systems, this can be a bit weird. While the module does manage to provide a tactical encounter here, said encounter is based in a way on “readying action” attacks and a counterattack engine, which, while reasonably depicted, makes for a very awkward insertion – after all, once you use it, it should be an option all the time, right? I’m pretty sure that this could have been solved more elegantly. On the plus-side, there are means to bypass this encounter and grant the PCs an edge via magic, so that’d be a plus.
The true dungeon, though, would be a strange, military-style tower that appears as a hazy mist with no apparent detail; it is solid, though ethereal it may be, and may be entered and explored. It is, obviously, a symptom of the Corruption spreading from the Nexid Mouthgate, and indeed, the exploration of the linear floors pits the PCs against three types of Nexids, rewarding them with strange chemicals (including random tables for mixing the volatile materials), blackmetal items…and, well, the truth. Atop the tower, Færgo uses a strange device, a spyglass, a weird helmet atop his head – the combination of the nexid’s influence, spyglass and helmet have started to control the poor man, subsuming his identity under the irresistible compulsion to watch and guard for the approach of his masters, flooding his mind with touches of the alien nexid’s world and their strange thought-patterns….a fate that will break him sooner or later, but then again…he only has to last until proper nexids can take the mantle of sentinel…
The pdf provides its own table of strange locales the spyglass may be pointed at, as well as featuring several, unique spectra that it may be adjusted to show – but whether the PCs can free Færgo from the corruption, or whether the tower and its sentinel will be but the first of a dread invasion – only the PC’s prowess can answer that. (As an aside: An unchecked tower will run through attracted folks, littering the vicinity slowly with desiccated corpses, which is a rather grim picture – so if you want to go grimdark here, you have your work cut out for you…)
Editing is very good on a formal and rules-language level. Formatting is slightly less impressive and sports a few inconsistencies. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard, and the artworks deserve special mention – they are original pieces, with 2 b/w-artworks and quite a few nice full-color pieces. The inclusion of handout-versions of them is a great plus. Cartography is isometric full-color for the region, b/w for the adventure-locations, and once more, we do get player-friendly, key-less versions. Nice! The pdf comes fully bookmarked, is layered (!!) and has a navigation panel at the bottom of the page, allowing you to swiftly and painlessly jump to and fro from maps to the text and back again. Kudos indeed!
Edwin Nagy’s “The First Sentinel” is a great further exploration of one of the strongest components of “Whisper & Venom.” It almost feels like a transition, or like a means to get PCs on trek. The atmosphere it manages to evoke is nice, and in spite of being pretty much the definition of a railroad, structurally, it sells its linearity very well with details and unique, weird flavor and adversaries. Usually, this would, as a whole, make this clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down, but the sheer abundance of supplemental material regarding handouts and player maps, regarding these small comfort-enhancers, makes me round up instead.
You can get this fun expansion for Whisper & Venom here on OBS!
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