A group of novice adventurers responds to the desperate call of the castle steward. A wild animal is loose beneath the keep just as the lord of Turnberry is set to return for the winter. The embarrassing situation needs to be dealt with and quickly!
The heroes soon find there is more to this situation than first meets the eye. Drawn into the midst of a conspiracy, the PCs must fight to neutralize a threat to the safety of the entire castle.
The Hidden Threat is a Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Compatible adventure for four 1st level heroes set in the Kingdoms of Legend campaign setting.
This adventure includes 4 sample characters, 5 new magic items, and a new monster: the Rock Grub!
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This pdf is 36 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisements (also featuring the map index and 1 page back cover, leaving 32 pages of content.
The Kingdoms of Legend are Interaction Point Studios' very own campaign setting, which is loosely based upon our own world and subsequently not too high magic. A central part of that world's mythology revolves around the downfall of old gods and the replacement via 12 new ones. Clerics of the old gods still abound, though they can only regain spells when in proximity or in possession of a relic of said fallen god. This is important for the meta-plot of this adventure, hence I mention it.
The overall feeling the adventure evokes is very old-world-style, but not as gritty, desolate or wild as in e.g. Raging Swan's Lonely Coast mini-setting while still being aimed at old-school-style games.
This being the first part of an adventure trilogy,
will abound, so potential players please stop reading now and jump to the conclusion.
Still here? Ok!
This adventure kicks an adventuring career off with a humble task - strange noises have been heard from one of Turnberry castle's cesspits and the PCs, hapless newcomers to trade as they are, are supposed to climb down into the refusal pit and eliminate whatever creature has been causing problems there before the lord arrives. What begins as a simple extermination task, turns sour rather fast: The creature is a rockgrub, a huge grub that feeds on rock and is currently happy undermining the castle. Oh yeah, the beast is not native in these parts. A quick search leads the PCs to a nest of eggs and the worms mate as well as a slave-driven, hidden enclave of hobgoblins that tries to excavate a temple of the old gods that has been lost in the rocks under the castle.
Why? Well, because someone hired them, of course, and that someone also provided them a kind of relic to find the temple. The mysterious employer also tried diplomacy and an assassin (who now languishes in Turnberry's dungeon - not the best one, it seems) prior to this, but that is part of the metaplot and not relevant for this adventure.
From a rat-swarm to a huecava (escaped from the buried complex) and smart fighting foes, to some minor traps and even the possibility to stealthily approach the final battle(s) through a subterranean mushroom forest (including a d20 table for eating unidentified fungi) the enemies and obstacles in this adventure are generally smart and feel like a nice little humanoid force, complete with an ogre. Yep. Who would have thought that. A 1st-level mini-dungeon with goblinoids and an ogre at the end. Déjà-vu, anyone else apart from yours truly? It's a pity that e.g. the mushroom forest is not utilized as a cool place for a final showdown - jumping atop an ogre from a mushroom cap is, after all, quite cool.
We also get the new rockgrub-monster (CR 2, btw.) and 3 minor and nice magic items. Said monsters are the coolest part of the adventure, providing the possibility of a collapsing tower in part 3 of the adventure as well as the possibility of the PCs raising one of the grubs. However, no sample DCs are given for said task, squandering a rather cool idea.
We also get 2 pages of full-color maps with grids that cover each and every encounter in the dungeon, which is nice. What's not so nice is that my players won't get to see them, because they feature encounter numbers and I consider these to be immensely distracting from immersion. Quite frankly, I don't get why in this day and age where a simple layer can take care of them, they are still in almost every map. I could continue now with my patented Endzeitgeist-hates-maps-with-secret-doors-and-numbers-rambles, but for your and my sanity's sake I'll refrain from doing so. We don't get a map of Turnberry castle and the non-combat areas, though.
The pdf also comes with 4 pregens on one page and 2 pages of campaign world information.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a classic two-column standard and the b/w-artworks are nice and help establish the very traditional feel of the module. The pdf is extensively bookmarked.
Old-school indeed. That's clearly the design-goal here, as the adventure itself is rather humble - nothing too flashy, nothing too extravagant. However, that's also the problem: Reading this, I thought I liked the adventure. That there's nothing wrong with it. That's what makes rating this pdf so hard.
Apart from the set-up the module delivers for parts 2 and 3, it has nothing UNIQUE or tremendously exciting going for it. While the writing is concise, the items, the setting-specific, minor details and the foes are well-crafted, this adventure felt very "Been there, done that" - catacombs below a castle? Check. Enemy-roster? Double check. Especially the final fight and the opposing forces are just so incredibly...run-of-the-mill. No unique mounts, no special tactics and the environmental complications and challenges, while nice, also are nothing too special.
A central problem here is, that while I'd usually rate this adventure somewhere between 3 and 4 stars, there are _MANY_ VERY good adventures out there and unfortunately, e.g. Raging Swan's "Retribution" blows "The Hidden Threat" clean out of the water. I could also mention several other adventures, but I guess my argument is clear - I just can't bring myself to recommend this. It's too formulaic, too run-of-the-mill and that's a pity - Brent Evanger knows how to write and the adventure has some angles (fungi, rock grubs etc.) that would have made for a truly cool experience. As written, though, my final verdict will be 2.5 stars, rounded down to 2 for me personally, rounded up to 3 if you like these very old-school, down to earth modules. If you want to run the whole trilogy, this might be better for you. I, for my part, will take a look at the sequels and hope the build-up leads to a cool pay off in Part 2 and 3.
This is one of the best starter adventures I've read in quite some time. More experienced players may find the dungeon crawl atmosphere a bit old school, but I like it, especially for newer players as it focuses the attention on the adventure at hand rather than allowing the players to wander off like free range kittens.
I bought it when it was announced on the blog (both hard copy and PDF) and don't regret it at all. IMO, it's on par (playability and adventure wise) with most of the old "Village Of Hommlet", and that's a good thing.