Welcome to the second issue of Adventure Quarterly! Adventure Quarterly is dedicated to regularly bringing you fun adventures for your Pathfinder Roleplaying Game from new and established voices in the RPG industry. It is our hope that like us, you feel that there's just never enough adventure out there!
Within this issue you shall find a means for randomized room flavor within a dungeon, a means of testing the mettle of nascent adventurers, what happens when ancient burial rites go awry, an anvil upon which characters break or prove themselves, and some insight into the morale of an encounter. From the talented minds of T.H. Gulliver, Jonathan McAnulty, Steven D. Russell, and Justin Sluder are adventures covering the low-, mid-, and high- level ranges of play. Creighton Broadhurst of Raging Swan Press offers up a creative way to add flavor to any room. Robert N. Emerson shares with us his rules for managing the motivations and spirit of NPCs during a fight.
Adventures are aimed at 1st, 9th, and 18th level characters, with detailed maps, encounters, and NPCs!
Who could wish for anything more?
Cover Illustration by Juan Diego Dianderas Pages: 84
The second issue of Rite Publishing's quarterly adventure-magazine is 90 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page blank inside the back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving 84 pages of content, so let's check this out!
This being a review of an adventure-based magazine, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.
All right, still here? Excellent! The first module is a slight blast from the past for me - we get the complete first level of the Ruins Perilous by Jonathan McAnulty of Kaidan and Coliseum Morpheuon-fame. Once a project with an experimental funding system, the project has been dormant for some time, which as a pity: The Ruins Perilous are located next to Questhaven, Rite Publishing's upcoming magical renaissance city governed by adventurers and the Ruins are not only a mega-dungeon, but also a kind of proving ground: Cleared by the first adventurers of the Questor's Society, each level of the Ruins includes a Guild-Forge, where the emblematic rings that denote rank in the society can be upgraded, making exploration of the dungeon one of the ways to enhance your standing in the Questor's Society.
AQ #2 includes the complete first level, released for the very first time in its entirety. With adventurers exploring the place, it needs a care-taker to remain a challenge and there indeed is one: Carcera, a dungeon dragon, takes care that vanquished foes are replaced and also monitors and modifies this artificially maintained dungeon environment - but each replacement takes some time. And should the PCs die, their corpses will be hauled back by Ciicul, Stonewarden the cynical groundskeeper gargoyle for proper burial. The first level of the Ruins Perilous turns out to thus have a rather interesting feeling, being something different in tone from your standard dungeon, which becomes readily apparent when the first creatures they fight turn out to be shivs, carnivorous green lizard that are quickly followed on by encounters with the first traps, a lesser ghostly shadow, giant porcupines, a junk elemental and an interesting, mysterious set of fountains, the transcription of which should elude the PCs due to the high DC, at least for now. PCs also have a chance to be squashed by logs, combat a mirror assassin and meet a tribe of thievish pilfer monkeys seeking to take their shiny baubles, equipment etc. Among the more far-out beings, once can encounter a 2-headed dire shadow rat, skeletal guardians made of smoke and vermin like giant ticks etc. Rather disturbing, the PCs can also find a rather nasty fungus that has created some fungal spider zombies.
In order to advance to level 2, though, they will first have to defeat ratfolk sentinels spying for their allies on level two, explore a garden of self-combusting flowers and a rather unpleasant amount of poisonous blue cave frogs before passing the guild forge and its guardian and venturing to level 2, which I hope to see in the next installment of AQ!
The module also features 3 new magic items, 6 new monsters, the full stats of Ciicul and 4 different pregens, all of which utilize some of the neat racial supplements by Rite Publishing.
The second module is T. H. Gulliver's "Into the Land of Tombs", a tantalizing locale first featured in the stellar "#30 Traps for Tombs", which to this day remains the best trap-book available for PFRPG. The once verdant land was beset by a dread cataclysm that ensured the gradual transformation of the land's culture - now a wasteland of tombs, people still shiver at the potential return of the Necromancer-Pharao Nukramajin - a detailed background along DCs etc. is provided for the PCs to unearth. When the nephew of Ayser Ayman died, the funeral procession set off towards the family crypt, guarded from the roaming undead by a magical crypt key - only to be attacked and almost wiped out by attackers, who took Hafa Ayman hostage. It is here the PCs come in: They have to journey to the land of tombs, without a crypt key, and return Ayser's sister to him. After a short interrogation of the surviving guard, the PCs will be off towards the place of the ambush where the bodies have recently been gnawed on and thus, the PCs can immediately make themselves a picture on how cowardly the guardsman truly is - as soon as a pack of sand ghasts breaks loose from the desert to add the PCs to the festering pile of bodies.
Now, after that, the awesomeness begins with a undead gunslinger Askari harassing the PCs and making for a truly unsettling encounter -whether diplomatic or combat-themed. After that, the PCs will sooner or later stumble upon the now undead funeral procession of Ayser's deceased nephew and have a chance to rescue Hafa Ayman, who has been locked up in the sarcophagus of her son. The mastermind, though has gone ahead to the family's crypt. Bringing the remains there, they can encounter the wizard Sekani Omari, who was after the crypt key to gain access to the family tomb - to find the legendary tomb of Nukramajin. He only got a cryptic prophecy, though, which might make for an awesome future module. Better yet, if you need an added complications in the show-down, you may add a new creature, the so-called Red Jester, which can be considered a truly deadly undead jester that was amused by the irony of the undead procession.
The high level module of this installment is Steven D. Russell's "Dungeon of No Return", which could e considered a nod towards the "Tomb Of Horrors". If the name was not ample clue: PCs will DIE here. In order to resurrect a legendary hero of old, the PCs need to reclaim a gem of power called the Quietus Starlight and are hired to enter the dungeon of no return, to once again stop the now reincarnated fey deity of autumn. The gem is a soul-prison, yes, but an insidious one - the hero of old doesn't want to leave it, for it is a true paradise and thus has created an order of powerful beings to ensure he is never disturbed - it is into this death-trap of a complex, against this hero's allies the PCs will have to march to rip the legend of old from his self-chosen complacency. Much like "Down the Rabbit Hole", this is a five-room dungeon, with each room containing some kind of deadly challenge the will not only require good rolls and builds, but also wits on part of the players to weather. And boy, does this module not pull any punches: After teleporting to the first room (via a carpet, probably), the PCs can imemdiately fall prey to a powerful illusion of "Dawning of the Wildstar", legendary blade of Rualsnis the Wyrd-smith and not only have fun with a deadly destruction spell, but also with a...balor. In room 1. Yeah. Ouch. However, if the PCs "get" a respective room and solve it without triggering its prohibition etc., they'll be rewarded quite generously in each of the rooms.
Speaking of ouch: A rainbow wall looks bad. A path into a side-room that turns out to be the path into the massive maw of a petrified gigantean hero-killer remorhaz Raze-Ruse(CR 25), though? PAIN. Worse, the insides of the petrified beast are dimensionally locked, making for easily very dead PCs. Speaking of dead - room 3 houses a crucifixion spirit as well as exemplar mudmen. How better, though to pass teh time before the dragon's lair than with a nice game of wheel of fortune? Guarded by an adamantine cannon golem that can practically not be defeated unless very specific conditions are met and an ironborn luckbringer, the PCs get a chance to play at the wheel-equivalent of a deck of many things, with a whopping 100 different results. Though, after an initial success, the luckbringer uses his powers to foul the PC's agenda and ensure the powerful curses befall them. (Btw.: all rules to properly play the luckbringer are depicted) In the final room, hidden by an illusion, waits the perhaps deadliest beast of all - a rival adventurer group of highest level, commanded by the hobgoblin brute Kraulog. His allies include a goblin rogue, a drow cleric and a fighter/evoker that come, as most builds herein, with multiple feats, magical item qualities, arcane discoveries or uncommon spells.
The pdf also features a massive 100-entries table of generic dungeon dressing features by Raging Swan mastermind Creighton Broadhurst as well as a short 2-page article I really enjoyed by Robert N. Emerson, as I use similar house-rules in my own game: If you care to, as a DM you'll get the guidelines for creating easy-to-use morale-rules for NPCs, re-introducing psychological warfare etc. in your game. Nice way to end this issue. Among the supplemental material, we find an extensive mixture of .png and .jpeg-versions of the maps - both with and without labels, making them suitable to potentially be printed out and handed to players while they explore - nice!
Editing and formatting are ok, though not perfect: I encountered multiple little typos like a missing "s" in "She" and the like, though nothing too grievous. Layout adheres to RiP's 2-column standard and the artworks are mostly stock. The pdf comes with extensive nested bookmarks as well as two separate zip-files, providing label-less versions of the maps in .png-format as well as versions with labels and keys in jpeg-format. Cartography is detailed and done with dundjinni.
The second installment of Adventure Quarterly once again provides us with a low, a mid- and a high-level adventure, so how do they fare? I'm a fan of the whole fresh "artificial, deadly proving ground"-idea of the Ruins Perilous, so that one is right up my alley and I'm rather glad we finally get to explore the complex's whole first level! I look forward to seeing the lower ones. My favorite, though, would be T.H. Gulliver's relatively short wilderness trek into the land of tombs, though: The module breathes iconic, dark Sword & Sorcery spirit and brims with some disturbing ideas - If only there was more space devoted to it.
While the fluff is clearly beyond reproach and cements my impression of T. H. Gulliver's vast capacity for writing a great adventure, the basic structure of the module is rather simple and would have benefited greatly from some additional hazards and haunts to complicate the quest of the PCs. I'd honestly would love to see a ~100+-page sourcebook/sandbox adventure on the land of tombs. The final module is a meat-grinder in the best sense of the word - consciously deadly, entering the "Dungeon of No Return" is not exactly a good way to plan for old age. This 5-room-dungeon lives up to its name, though I have one thing to complain about that one: The background story is awesome, but no epilogue or even stats are provided - I'd love to see an incursion into the legendary prison that is the quest's goal or even some other form of resolution - as provided, that's the one flaw of an otherwise stellar high-level module.
When all's said and done, we get 2 good dungeons and a wilderness trek that oozes style. Due to my minor complaints mentioned earlier, I'll settle on a final verdict of a solid 4 stars for the second issue of Adventure Quarterly.
Three very different styles of adventure, none without their flaws, but all fun.
While it’s common for sourcebooks to get the glory in tabletop role-playing games, it’s adventures that are their lifeblood. After all, while it can be fun to create various characters and tweak builds, all of that effort is just a prelude to really putting your character through his or her paces in an adventure, seeing if they can survive, and thrive, in the adventures that the GM has in store for them, adventures such as those of Rite Publishing’s Adventure Quarterly #2.
A ninety-page adventure, AQ2 has three adventures, wisely split among the low, mid, and high levels. Insightfully, the table of contents tells you this without preamble, giving you a brief description of the adventures and letting you know that they’re for parties of 1st, 9th, and 18th-level characters.
We’ll go over the adventures, but before we do some technical aspects of the book must be addressed. For one thing, AQ2 is not just a PDF file. A half-dozen files, a mixture of PINGs and JPEGs, display the maps for the adventures. Each adventure has one map with the labels, and one without any labels, something that I was particularly pleased by. Made with Dundjinni, the maps aren’t anything to write home about, but at the same time aren’t slap-dash quality either – rather, they look like what they are: a pro-am production made with mapping software.
The PDF which is the bulk of the product hits the technical marks you’d expect it to; copy-and-paste is enabled, and full nested bookmarks are present. The book is set against a white background, and has only a thin border around the pages. Several pieces of full-color art break up the text in various places – including the maps, which are placed into the body of each adventure (something I found helpful, rather than redundant) – but overall the illustrations are sparse enough to strike a nice balance between being relatively printer-friendly while still featuring pictures.
After the editorial for this issue, we’re sent directly to the first adventure, “The Ruins Perilous.” Meant for 1st-level characters, the Ruins Perilous has something of an odd plot, in that it expects the characters to be heading to a dungeon that’s set up strictly as a proving ground for adventurers – those who can overcome the dungeon’s obstacle can join the adventurer’s society that sponsors the dungeon.
I personally found this particular back-story to be a bit thin, partially because it leans on Rite Publishing’s only-vaguely-described Questhaven setting, and partially because having the PCs run through a “training” dungeon feels somehow of less import than if they were going through a “real” one.
That’s really the major critique for the first adventure, because the rest of the dungeon is fairly well designed. I particularly liked, for example, the bit about who keeps the dungeon in ready shape for adventurers, and it wouldn’t take much to set this up as a “legit” dungeon unto itself.
In terms of the dungeon itself, it’s actually an above-ground set of ruins, in which the PCs need to survive while finding specific methods to get to the end. It includes a fairly diverse set of traps and monsters, and covers the largest amount of territory (at least in terms of tactical maps) of the three adventures. There’s an excellent mixture of opportunities here for different ways to go about “beating” the dungeon – from simply hack ‘n’ slashing everything in sight to trying to sneak through with minimal contact with the locals to trying to get through with diplomacy. None of these will work in every situation of course, but you may be surprised by just how different this dungeon can play out depending on how the PCs approach it.
This is also the adventure with the most support material in the book; by support material I mean that this adventure features multiple new magic items, new monsters, and even a set of pregenerated PCs. There’s a lot to recommend The Ruins Perilous, and it opens AQ2 with a great start.
The second adventure, “Into the Land of Tombs,” doesn’t manage to live up to its preceding adventure, unfortunately. For one thing, it’s fairly heavy on its backstory, to the point where the reasons behind the adventure feel burdensome in what they lay on the PCs. Moreover, there’s a strong overtone of the cultural norms of the desert society in which the adventure takes place (as the adventure revolves around those norms being violated), which means that there’s a large table for the PCs to know what those cultural practices are to begin with. Be prepared to read a lot of text to the characters at the start of the adventure.
The adventure itself is essentially a journey to a tomb and the recovery of a missing item held therein. It’s fairly brief overall, which isn’t a bad thing; it’s fairly intense, however, as there are a number of encounters beyond what you’d expect for the duration of the adventure. This is a good thing, as it ablates my biggest gripe with this adventure – it doesn’t quite live up to its listed level for the characters.
“Into the Land of Tombs” is meant to be for 9th-level characters. However, while a few of the encounters are collectively that threat level, none of the individual creatures (save for the BBEG at the end) have a CR that high. To be fair, a few do almost get there with a Challenge Rating of 8. But for the most part, the adventure’s strategy is to wear the PCs down over time, making it very important that the GM reinforce that the fifteen-minute adventuring day not apply here. The PCs are meant to expend resources fighting waves of weaker monsters so that when they come to the end, the “final boss” can adequately challenge them. With that said, be prepared to scale things up if your party is larger than normal.
The final adventure, meant for 18th-level characters, is “The Dungeon of No Return.” As with the other adventures, it has an odd back-story, but it’s nicely abbreviated; moreover, the adventure hooks are varied, and presented as bullet points that quickly describe reasons why the PCs would get involved at all, something that shouldn’t be too hard to determine when your PCs are this high-level.
One thing that needs to be said about this adventure up-front is that the GM will need to sink some serious time into preparation. It’s common knowledge that running a high-level game takes some work, and that’s on display here. While the eponymous dungeon is only five rooms long, the creatures and traps in those five rooms require a full thirty pages to properly lay out. A GM who tries to run this one off the cuff is asking for a lot of frustration.
That said, a GM who does familiarize himself with this dungeon will find that it can present quite the challenge to his group…though some tweaking may be necessary. Several of the rooms in the dungeon are based around the idea of the PCs taking bait and bringing the resulting consequences down on themselves. I personally find most groups, particularly at high levels, to be highly suspicious in nature, and certainly not prone to repeating behaviors that previously brought them to bad ends. It’s not that big a deal, as the dungeon doesn’t rely solely on this gimmick, but it is in there more than once. Be prepared to rethink a room or two on this premise.
The book closes with a pair of quick articles; the first gives us a table of one hundred random features that can be part of a dungeon room. The second is a brief but interesting take on using a mechanical shorthand to indicate how an NPC’s primary (and secondary) motivation can affect their behavior in the course of game-play – something like a morale score, but for something besides determining if the characters duck and run from combat. Both are interesting articles, but I confess that it was the second one that really captured my imagination; I’m a big fan of using brief mechanics as springboards to determine NPC behaviors, so I quite enjoyed this one.
Overall, Adventure Quarterly #2 presents an imperfect but strong selection of adventures. Each is thoughtfully set around different styles of game-play – a dungeon with a widely-varied cast of monsters and traps, a dungeon that relies on attrition, and a dungeon with a short but highly-complex set of challenges – that cover a wide range of styles. Some of the details weren’t to my liking, but these were never anything game-breaking, and in fact were quite easy to change. The pair of articles at the end helped to round things out, even if they weren’t completely germane to the materials at hand. Still, if you’re looking for some new challenges to run your group through, you’d be well-served by what you’ll find in Adventure Quarterly #2.