Last Gasp (5e)
Honorable Mention of my Top Ten of 2016
This module clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 21 pages for this module for 6th-level characters, so let’s take a look!
This module is intended to be run in Midgard’s Southlands, though arguably, it can be transported with ease into just about any desert-themed environment that can feature a lost tomb. Even the desert-fluff can arguably be eliminated by refluffing the module.
All right, you know the deal – this being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, still around? Great! So, this module begins pretty much with the PCs hired by one Wasil al-Jayib as hired muscle as the arrive and explore the ruined temple of Anu-Akma that contains the entry to the tomb of fabled Menet-Ka…and the first combat, which features, among other things the rotting wind creature deserves mentioning as a nice first taste of the leitmotif and things to come. Oh, and it should be noted that both the new creatures and Wasil feature their own, absolutely amazing artworks.
You see, the inside of the tomb not only has geomancy glyphs…it also locks down behind the PCs: From a junction, the PCs can witness a crackling flame powered by a gas reservoir and decipher glyphs in order to follow the correct path through the dungeon, in the footsteps of Menet-Ka…so yes, this module manages to perfectly emulate the feeling of exploring ancient, dangerous ruins and presents a level of internal consistency that is impressive indeed.
I mean, I could talk about one of the best examples of a “sand fills everything” trap I have ever seen in roleplaying games…but I’d still be tiptoeing around the one thing that makes this module pure, adrenaline-filled amazingness. Know how I mentioned the tomb sealing? It’s airtight. Every single action, every minute, the timer is ticking down. That gas-powered flame? Consumes air. Wasif’s habit of hookah-smoking when stressed? Kills air. Flaming monsters? Consume air. Dismantling that highly complex trap? Air’s running out. Each wing has its own supply, mind you, and helpful reminders littered throughout the module help you keep track of them, making running the module surprisingly easy! And yep, the module employs 5e’s great exhaustion-mechanics for the final stages of lack of air…
Oh, have I mentioned that the dungeon is littered with choices for smart PCs? Regarding the elimination of flames, regarding the conservation of the precious oxygen…and they’ll need to be SMART. After all, in order to escape, they’ll well need to find a broken tablet and decipher both halves….and finally dive down in a labyrinth-like section, flooded by holy Nuria Natal (if they blindly dove down there, then whatever deity may bless their souls…) and there, duke it out with a water weird and the ghost of Menet-ka himself!
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no issues. Layout adheres to Kobold Press’ two-column full-color standard. The artworks herein are absolutely fantastic and the cartography in color is just as glorious, though I wished the module had player-friendly, key-less versions. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Dan Dillon’s “Last Gasp” may not sound like much on paper and I am firmly convinced that my review does not do it justice, but I tried. You see, this can be played as an adventure…sure. But its mechanics and traps make it an amazing hazard-book as well, even if you’re not at all interested in the module.
Ahem, let me spell that out for you: You DO want to run this. Heck, you probably want to run this even if you’re not playing 5e! For one, this is a defiantly, dauntingly old-school module in all the right ways: Much like e.g. LotFP’s “The Grinding Gear“, this represents a truly phenomenal dungeon that rewards player intelligence more than simple luck. It presents a dungeon that is as much a character as any adversary, one suffused by lore and flavor in every single room…and it represents a dungeon that rewards the players and PCs for engaging it, for thinking, getting invested, getting into the mindset of the place. If you run into this, expending to easily crawl through it, you’ll die horribly. And that’s how it should be.
This is NOT an easy module. Don’t play it as your first 5e-module unless you’re already a veteran of RPGs. It is, however, the most rewarding 5e-module I’ve read so far, one that dares to refuse to kowtow to the assumption that players aren’t smart enough. Sure, if that’s how you roll (for once, yes, I do judge…), the module does have an easy-mode suggestion, but my contention is…why draw the fangs of this majestic beast of a module? That’s like playing a point and click adventure with the walkthrough open without even trying. This module is hard, yes, but it is a difficulty that is both FAIR and EARNED. This is a module that challenges players more than it challenges PCs and in this day and age, that is absolutely AMAZING. Each combat, each interaction, each trap – everything is carefully and deliberately-crafted with a craftsmanship and artistry that manages to stand by the best of Midgard-modules, evoking a sense of consistency rarely seen in modules for current rules-system.
In case you haven’t figured that out yet: I consider this module to be a masterpiece that is significantly better than its humble page-count would suggest. Whether for convention purposes, to bring some respect or challenge to your games or to simply experience this shining jewel of a module; heck, even from just a scavenging-perspective, this is worth every cent of its asking price thrice. Seriously, get this. Even if you usually only play OSR-modules. Even if you play a different system in your main campaign and only are cursorily familiar with 5e, this is worth converting. I am baffled by the fact that the first module by Dan Dillon I’ve read is this damn good. If this is any indication of what he’s capable of, then let the man write more adventures! I’m so not kidding when I’m saying that we NEED more modules like this. I’ve rarely had this much fun with a short module. This receives my highest recommendations, 5 stars + seal of approval and it qualifies as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016.
Weird, btw.: As per the writing of this review, this module languishes in relative obscurity, being not available on either paizo or OBS. You should not let that deter you and get this gem right here in kobold press’ store!