Vathak Adventures: Brides of Black Earth (5e) (priority review)
This installment of the Vathak Adventures-series clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page basic explanations of rules-terms, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review is part of a request from my supporters.
Okay, this adventure is intended for a group of 3rd-level characters, and situated in the Shadows over Vathak horror setting, in Kingarten, near the Moldoveana Forest, to be precise. The module features read-aloud text, and dialogue, though the latter is not designated as read-aloud text; however, the module does start off with a handy Q-A-sequence, and it does include something cool: GMs who have a hard time improvising dialogue will find rather detailed question/answer sections with in-game responses you can paraphrase. Kudos!
The module features a b/w-map, and while the map itself does not note scale, the text does. No player-friendly version of the map is provided. On the big plus-side: The module has a full-color, rather neat handout that covers half a page. Kudos for prioritizing art budget in a way that benefits the players.
SPOILERS AHEAD! Jump to the conclusion if you want to play this.
Okay, so the module begins with the proclamation of Jarwick, a herald, pronouncing the impending marriage of Lady Malyssa Florin’s daughter Taelerys to Lord Heltyn. Attendance, of course, is mandatory, and the day’s a holiday. The Question and Answer-powered legwork soon clears up that the marriage is politically motivated; it seems like Taelerys wasn’t happy, but that she came around when the lord turned out to be rather strapping. For a bit of beer, the adventurers can also find out that the young lady missed her morning ride for the last couple of days and hasn’t been seen since. Jarwick also thinks he heard crying at night.
Soon thereafter, a messenger arrives and hands the local innkeeper a fully fleshed out a summons for the party by Her Grace, and one that emphasizes DISCRETION. At the castle, the rather discreet process of getting to Her Grace is depicted pretty clearly. Turns out that Taelerys has vanished; once more, the QA-approach for the dialogue with Her Grace is provided, and the party can investigate the room of the vanished maiden. In her diary (aforementioned handout), she notes being visited by a dark rider and falling for the entity, as well as confiding in the minstrel Perciwell; the cowardly minstrel could identify the dark rider as the exiled outlaw Reeve Adenot, who colludes with a witch. The minstrel has been browbeaten by the outlaw, and the nocturnal crying? Actually, that’s the minstrel’s guilt.
The trail leads the party to a grove, where interaction with a dryad can lead them farther to a vineyard, where she attempts to charm a character with her wine (great angle for further quests and NOT a gameover!); her associate Terrick knows more about the Reeve’s associate, a witch named Svige, who has since her time as Terrick’s apprentice, sworn allegiance to the Old One Ka’sogrotha, gaining powers from the Worm of Black Earth, self-styling herself as the eponymous Bride of Black Earth. He warns that she’ll be more powerful underground. Terrick also mentions that he lost his eye to her, which the witch still sues to scry on him, and consequently sends minions to take out the party.
From there, the party ventures forth to the bandit camp, where they need to deal with some regular dudes; the Reeve is a knight with a custom ability that allows him to get away. Taelerys is bewitched and harmless, but the magics make her hostile, so dealing with her will be interesting.
Ultimately, the party will need to go underground and deal with Svige, which would be a small dungeon. The dungeon features some sold challenges and includes a magical poison, a properly crafted magic item. The dungeon features several interesting tidbits and is internally consistent and makes sense. As a minor nitpick, there are quite a few minor formatting hiccups regarding rules-formatting, no big ones, but they do exist. The Bride of Black Earth, alas, is a downer of sorts. She is a mage and has a custom spell list, but no unique abilities, which makes the “face her in light” angle not work.
Editing is very good on a formal level, and good on a rules-language level; formatting is okay; there is e.g. an instance where a textblock that should be italicized isn’t, and on a formal formatting side, there are a couple of issues. The interior artworks are historic b/w-pieces used in a neat manner, and the color cover is neat. The handout in full-color is great. The b/w-cartography is functional, but not spectacular. The lack of a player-friendly version of the map is slightly problematic. The pdf has no bookmarks; while it doesn’t necessarily need them at this length, that’s still a comfort detriment.
Jason Owen Black provides (based on Kim Frandsen’s work), a rather interesting and fun sidetrek. There is some roleplaying, some combat, and the module manages to evoke an atmosphere that feels like a somewhat twisted fairy tale; the module isn’t horrific per se, but hits dark fantasy notes as Vathak’s secondary theme very well, with the setup feeling more feudal (in a good way!) than many comparable modules. For not even $3, you get a rather nifty little sidetrek; certainly, not an earth-shaking one, but the module, as a whole, works and is a fun experience. It’s not an easy one, mind you, but it certainly isn’t generic. So yeah, I consider this one to be definitely worthwhile. My final verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded up due to the low asking price and due to it being simply closer to 4 than 3 stars for this low price.
You can get this inexpensive module here on OBS!
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