The drow city of Holoth is a wealthy metropolis of power-hungry drow families, with various houses constantly vying for position and prestige at the expense of each other. House Gullion, one of the more sinister houses, seals a pact with a mysterious race called the Vidre, an agreement which causes a shift Gullion’s way and throws the entire Underworld into utter chaos. Matron Maelora of House Gullion is as devious as they come and has far greater dreams than simple regional conquest; visions from the Spider Goddess give her insight into the expansion of her house and dominance over both the Under and Overworld. Numerous bold moves plant House Gullion in a position of power over the entire region. Now the PCs must make their move and stop the evil Matron Maelora in her play for power, but how will they go about it? How will they ensure their victory?
Also included in The Rise of the Drow:
Maps by 3x ENnie award winning cartographer Todd Gamble include: Krelgar Keep, Underworld, City of Embla, Back Road to the City of Holoth and entrance to the Fungi Forest, City of Holoth, Drow Spider Temple, and six maps of the massive Tolgorith Tower.
Illustrations by James J Krause, Tim Tyler, Silvano, and many more!
The dwarven city of Embla fleshed out in great detail and usable for future games
Amazing multi-layered Mushroom Harvesting Mini-Game by Stephen Yeardley with 6 pages of detailed rules on how to run this game for your players!
Three main paths for the PCs to explore with downloadable PDFs detailing the layout of each
Numerous locations within the drow city of Holoth for use in this adventure as well as your campaign setting
The gargantuan “Temple of the Spider Goddess” numbering close to 20 locations, and including a special map by Todd Gamble
House Gullion’s home, “Tolgorith Tower” which spans across 6 maps and includes over 30 different locations for your PCs to explore
Supplemental histories on each member of House Gullion
Multiple ways for the PCs to end the adventure, each with it’s own experience rewards and regional influence
New Traps: Ochre Jelly Dust and many more!
New Special Ability: Third Eye of Fear
New Feats: Fused Weapon Fighting and Colorless Mercantile
This pdf is 121 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving a whopping 116 pages of content, so let's check this out!
This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players might wish to jump to the conclusion.
All right, still here? The underdark is boiling from the flames of war - Maelora of House Gullion (nice tribute to fellow review KTFish7, I assume?) has taken control over the drow trade-hub of Holoth via an interesting coup d'état - allying herself with the alien Vidre and siphoning power from an artifact granted by these enigmatic, crystalline schemers, she indeed triumphed and funneled the souls of her captives through the artifact to gain immense power. Unbeknown to her, half of the souls have been funneled to the greedy clutches of the alien Vidre and sacrifices have started to become harder and harder to come by. Not one to be dictated what to do, the matron managed to sever the binding ties and arcane entwinements of the pact between her and the Vidre via the Spider-Goddess' help (we're looking at old-school drow here, obviously) for the promise of a conquest of the worlds above - the goddess has spoken and so it shall be done. The Vidre, meanwhile, prepare for war - their thirst for souls must be slaked.
Enter the PCs via a relative of Rybalka's blacksmith Quorron, a female named Miah, ambassador of Embla, a dwarven city that seeks to unite the denizens of the underdark to address the drow-problem. Time is of the essence, though, and the PCs will have to take a dangerous road into the underdark via the ruins of Krelgar keep (5 level-mini-dungeon, lavishly cartographed in a stunning full-color map) - and something is definitely amiss, indicated by the dimensionally shackled bralani the PCs encounter there. After encountering the first troupes of drow (thankfully only zombies), the PCs may be in for a surprise - if they can decipher a missive, they'll realize that the dark elves have planned a raid on the surface world. Even cooler: Drow Paper, Quills and Ink are described and they are anything but common - what about e.g. quills made from giant spider fangs? Neat! Nevertheless, the PCs should think about warning Rybalka - whether they do or not, the repercussions will be felt. However, the immediate threat, the boss of this dungeon, will prove to be a challenge - the disturbing drow mhorg Yul will prove to be a worthy challenge, no small thanks to his items and the new "Third eyes of fear" that lets the users blink. However, the villain could use some more tightly-focused connection with the byzantine drow-house-politics featured in book 3.
The journey through the underdark, accompanied by a cool map as well as information on various types of gases and multiple encounters will also see the PCs encounter their first driders, a wizard of house Gullion and then culminate in a chance for them to disrupt a drow raid on a dwarven caravan and then finally arrive at the gates of Embla, where the second module of the trilogy will start.
The pdf also includes the Titanic Beastmaster PrC. The class gets d8, 2+Int skills per level, full BAB, good fort- and ref-saves and focuses on taming and training the larger monsters - no spell progression or the like and the requirements for the PrC are rather steep, making it an accomplishment to actually qualify for it while granting massive enhancements to the special companion granted by it. Honestly not too blown away by this one.
On page 41, the statblock-index starts with an encounter table and takes up all space till page 117 to deliver all the stats for both D&D 3.5 and PFRPG. Unfortunately, the index is not bookmarked, which makes this vast section of the pdf harder to navigate than it should by any means.
The pdf closes with two player-friendly versions of the stellar maps.
Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect - I encountered some minor glitches, but none that severely impeded my enjoyment of the module. Layout adheres to AaW's full-color two-column standard and the cartography is simply awesome. I was also blown away by some of the artworks - the drow depicted mostly can stand up to the Paizo-level regarding the quality of the art. However, there are also some jarring full-color illustrations that feel somewhat shoehorned into the adventure, are of a lesser quality and detract from a unified look. I frankly would have preferred them to be left out. The pdf comes with a printer-friendly version and nested bookmarks, though I don't get why the massive encounter index has not been bookmarked - at least one to denote where the D&D-stats end and the PFRPG-stats begin would have been compulsory in my opinion. At the time of the writing of this review, Herolab-files have not yet been provided, but are planned.
"Rise of the Drow" is an interesting module in that it builds up a sense of threat and consequences for the region of Rybalka and its surroundings and works well to set up not only the drow as a credible threat, but also to evoke a sense of grand changes afoot. The environmental effects and cultural details like the paper/ink etc. they use lends an added sense of credibility to the dark elves. It should be noted, though, that the drow of AaW seem to worship a certain spider-goddess and thus are different from the demon-worshipping drow of Golarion - I'm already curious how this worship interacts with a fabled origin that hearkens back to Norse mythology. All in all, this is a good module with already rather significant decisions to make, but judging the repercussions and consequences etc., for now, remains hard - I look forward to seeing how the sequels can implement these diverging paths. Content-wise, thus, there's not much to complain about. However, the minor glitches and the un-bookmarked encounter-index serve as a major comfort-detriment. Add to that the jarring difference in quality between beautiful and rather hideous artworks and we have some factors that conspire to keep this module from the full 5 stars. Thus, my final verdict will be a solid 4 stars with your humble reviewer looking forward to seeing how the saga continues.
Part II - Scourge of Embla
This module is 84 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving a total of 80 pages of content, so let's check this out!
The trade city of Embla is perhaps the most ingenious dwarven city I've ever seen - built into vast so-called Gonjolas, crystals suspended from vast chains and connected by suspension bridges - I expected much, but not something so iconic - awesome! The pdf kicks off witha rather detailed description of the city and its locations and even organizations. A drow spy is also mentioned and described in detail.
This being an adventure review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may want to skip to the conclusion.
Still here? All right! After having been contacted by dwarves, the PCs have ventured into the mysterious underdark, unearthing a potentially vast threat to the surface of which the folk of Rybalka may or may not be aware at this point. Thus, their journey to thwart the gambit of house Gullion has led them to the wondrous dwarven city of Embla and speak with Maylorin and the merchant circle, hopefully managing to save at least some of their allies from a deadly cadre of drow assassins. Once the assassins have been defeated, your dwarven ally may lead the adventurers towards the city of Holoth - perhaps the PCs have even gotten a glance of the scrying attempt of the soul-consuming Vidrefacte. Here, the adventure splits into 3 paths - either the PCs try to warn Rybalka and return to the surface, sneak to the backdoor of Holoth or gather the remaining warriors of the dwarven city and opt for a frontal assault. And the consequences of each action may be dire:
If they return to the surface, Embla will be squashed with all the consequences that entails in Part III. If the PCs opt for a frontal assault, they will have to deal with a rather deadly slugfest to break through the drow's lines of defense and finally, if the PCs opt for the back door, they will have to traverse the domain of an albino dragon, deal with underdark dangers and survive extensive climbing sections (including a table of DCs and modifications) and survive falling stalactites. Potentially, they can find the resting place of a famous explorer and glean a hint from his journal (with a rather lavish entry) that may lead them to a gem of legend. Beyond that, a cave with a purple worm and her young awaits as well as fiendish advanced chokers, mold, fungi and slime. Speaking of Fungi: The Fungus Forest they encounter makes for a truly unique climax for this adventure, one I haven't seen before in any way:
Carefully tended by the impressive fungiant Huolethia Sieni, this garden comes to fruition only once each season and for 15 minutes - unfortunately, a tribe of particularly vicious fiendish chokers, the Ottaakiinni, has been harassing both him and his mushroom golems. The fungiant wants the PCs to help him harvest as many caps and edible spores from his cultivated farm as possible - and thus, the game is on: The fungus forest has 4 different levels, all detailed via schematic drawings of colored circles and each less dense in undergrowth than the one before. Different mushrooms have different sizes and point values assigned. Better yet, after the PCs have harvested, he'll turn the mushrooms to usable equipment/boons for the PCs, depending on which caps/spores they collected. DCs for diplomacy with the fungiant and golems as well as the sizes and point values of all the mushrooms are included in their own easy to navigate tables. Better yet, there actually is a separate version of the mushroom mini-game, making it also a rather neat idea to run at a con. Have I mentioned the three new spells, player-friendly maps of Embla, Underdark and the Back Road?
Editing and formatting are top-notch this time around, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to an elegant 2-column standard with the boxes we know from the revised AaW.com-layout, but with a spidery border. Neat! The pdf is lavishly bookmarked and the illustration of the Fungiant is awesome - as is the cartography: Todd Gamble has created some of his neatest pieces here and especially the map of Embla is a joy to behold. The pdf comes with an extra version of the mini-game as a pdf and a printer-friendly version. Herolab-files for the module will probably created soon as well, but have not yet been published as I write these lines.
It is rare for me to show any sense of wonder anymore, any sense of excitement and many designers forget that the underdark is more than a bunch of caverns filled with nasties - it's supposed to be an alien world of wonder, that is claustrophobic and disturbing. The pdf recommends the old Dungeoneer's Survival Guide and indeed, this module breathes the spirit of this stellar classic, delivering an old-schoolish sense of wonder and danger that goes beyond what one finds in almost all Underdark adventures nowadays without being repetitive of the classic concepts. The city of Embla is fascinating and I honestly wouldn't have minded a whole sourcebook à la Paizo's city-gazetteers devoted to it. And then there's the climax that is not a classic boss-fight or a been-there, done-that encounter, but rather an imaginative, innovative, cool mini-game that will test the PC's abilities to their limit should you chose so. This module has it all: Atmosphere. Imaginative, unique and iconic locations. Plot hooks. The option to jump off the rails and do something dramatically different, diverging from the presumed path. And the stellar, cool, innovative conclusion. This is how underdark-adventures should look nowadays. An awesome module, worth every cent of the price of admission and mops the floor with its direct predecessor. My final verdict? 5 stars + Endzeitgeist seal of approval. Nothing to complain -at all! Apart from one thing: Why is the Fungiant not on the cover? The artwork is SO AWESOME and much more compelling that the module's cover!
Part 2 of the review to come in the product discussion.