What Lies Beyond Reason #1: A Simple Job (5e)
The first installment of the “What Lies Beyond Reason AP” (if you don’t count the optional prologue) clocks in at 61 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page KS-thanks, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 55 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This has been moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
All right, while intended for 2nd level, it should be noted that scaling information for level 3 are included; similarly, if you dislike magical airships/basic steamtech, the module does mention how to deal with that. (It should be noted that more detailed theme-tweaking advice can be found in the impressive Campaign Guide). The pdf comes with pregens.
All right, this being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players will want to jump to the conclusion.
All right, so this module is…structurally another railroad and cognizant of this fact. That being said, it is radically different from the prologue and it arguably functions in a completely different manner. Since the PCs have arrived in the vast metropolis of Anduria, this module could be considered to be a massive “setting the stage”-experience – it is a “show/play, don’t tell”-style approach to familiarizing the players as well as the PCs with the city and, before you put this down, rest assured that later modules are more freeform.
Okay, so we rejoin the PCs after they have rejuvenated from their ordeal in the prologue and meet up (in a tavern – a cliché acknowledged by the module), they are contacted by a weird man named Thaddeus Billargo, an almost Elon Musk-ish merchant/visionary who hires them to get a shipment from the PTC (Peregrine Trade Consortium – think of them as a kind of nasty trade conglomerate) – he had a falling-out with the company and hence needs capable PCs to handle the job. He also grants a weird, blue flower to the PCs. The job seems simple and the deadline is generous, even though the PCs have to travel quite a bit through the metropolis to reach the PTC. Emphasis, obviously, should be placed on “seems”.
You see, when I stated that this is a “setting the stage type of module”, I was referring to two aspects: This, for one, introduces interesting locations and a general knowledge of the city and also establishes a base-line of contacts/dramatis personae. The timeline mentioned will become rather important, as the PCs choose their respective travel method: From going on foot/carriage) to taking ships through the channel to using air ships or hippogriffon chariots (!!!), en route travel encounters galore are included – and those you don’t end up using can be employed/scaled later…and yes, these are pretty cool. Unlike in the PFRPG-version, I can’t complain about an absence of vehicle-stats here. On the way, the PCs will also be introduced to the methods of the seekers of Asmodeus (and have a chance to foil them at their own game) and may be drawn into the machinations of a bored (and rather nasty) aristocrat… That being said, the travel time summaries etc. are pretty cool!
But back to the plot: The PTC, characterized by some serious bureaucracy and not too compliant, is stone-walling the PCs…but, you see, the nasty and rather devious bureaucrat in charge of their paperwork is missing his assistant, who hasn’t shown up/quit for a while, all in favor of a dame called Lysenese, one of the ladies working as scholars/high-class escorts/prostitutes at the Celestial Scriptorium. The PCs will grace this unique institution with their presence next, and here, they’ll encounter the sentient adamantine golem Adam, blissfully ignorant of the ways of mortals and a kind of tabula rasa regarding knowledge and social interaction, at least apart from basic personality…a potentially potent ally, though also one that can cause serious trouble. The lady tells the PCs that she has tried to dissuade the love-struck PTC-clerk Trevel Antivar, but in one of the discourse-only sessions, she had mentioned a fabled flower that supposedly blooms within a local landmark, the tower of the rose: This tower looks like it has been overgrown, kudzu-style, by razor-sharp thorns and traversing the narrow planks to the top of the tower will be interesting…as will be getting down inside…where, ultimately, the PCs will descend through the tower into the sewers and meet “The Entity” -a swarm-intelligence that seems to be able to assume control over a wide variety of beings…including the missing (and severely wounded) Trevel.
Now, the manner of how which Radiant Soul, mistress of the scriptorium’s researching capabilities are noted is somewhat odd and while generally, the 5e-material has been converted rather well, e.g. the bladeleaf hazard is still missing its damage type, which is a pretty big deal in 5e’s rules-terminology. Another weakness of the 5e-version would be that all stats-blocks have instances where they deviate in formatting from the established conventions, with italicizations missing and the like. Not to an extent where it’s bad, mind you – e.g. damaging objects and similar things all have been properly covered, but personally, it does irk me a bit. The same can be said about a magic item included, which slightly deviates from the formatting conventions.
To free Trevel from the entity’s grasp, the PCs will have to eliminate a powerful otyugh – who makes for a brutal boss in 5e! This frees Trevel, but he is still love-struck and convinced that bringing Lysenese the flower will grant him her favor – a fool’s errand, but deductive PCs may realize that the blue flower gained in the beginning is just that sought-after flower. Getting Trevel to pull back will yield the PC’s the favor of the scriptorium. Ultimately, one way or another, Trevel will return and help against the insidious bureaucrat, thus freeing the goods…and concluding this interesting, not so simple job!
Editing is very good, though formatting can be considered to be in need of a bit of improvement – the pdf does deviate from established 5e-formatting in a few places. Layout adheres to a professional and well-made two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version. The softcover is nice and has neat colors and sports A LOT of really nice full-color artworks. The adventure comes with an archive that contains the maps in a player-friendly, key-less version – big kudos!! The electronic version is fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Micah Watt’s “A Simple Job” is a surprisingly kind-natured and upbeat module: While a bit of the weird can be found, it is very subdued and generally paints a positive, nice and fantastic picture of the eternal city: The characters even can encounter some seriously funny scenes – Adam e.g. inquiring whether PCs are not properly “equipped” to deal with the ladies and similarly non-explicit quips, a generally upbeat mood and some high-fantasy wonder all conspire to make this module feel like a nice and flavorful introduction to the city and its traveling, with the free-form travel encounters (mapped, btw.!) adding some GM-control there.
As of the 5e-version, Ismael Alvarez has done an excellent job for the most part – while I could find a couple of hiccups, the important bits have been carefully and thoroughly converted in a rather nice manner. This can be considered to be a good conversion.
That being said, this is still a railroad in the vein of Ultima 7-questlines, where quest upon quest is heaped upon another in a linear manner. The respective vignettes are nice, yes, but if your players are like mine, they may not be too happy with this aspect. It does speak for the module’s quality that the vignettes, locations and NPCs can somewhat counteract this structural deficiency, but in the end, a good railroad still remains a railroad. This is a good one, but setting up two relatively linear modules, back to back, isn’t the best idea – it works here, but I was pretty happy to see #2 deviate from this formula. It should be noted that the 5E-version of this module is BRUTAL and NOT for the faint of heart. The boss has over 100 hp! Whether you like that or not depends on the group; personally, I love the challenge and it is an encounter that can be somewhat controlled by the PCs, but in comparison to PFRPG, it is a noticeable difficulty spike…one that means that the module doesn’t “peter out”, but also one that will have some players shocked.
The rating? Well, this ultimately is a good module – it sports a lot of prose and read-aloud text, evocative locales and introduces some seriously cool NPCs…but ultimately, I can’t go higher than 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform. *PERSONALLY*, I actually like the 5E-version better. The brutal final boss adds a serious touch of pain to the module that I was kinda missing in PFRPG…but that can go both ways and some groups may consider this to be a bit much, so GMs, take care there.
You can get this cool module here on OBS!