Thursday, June 12, 2008

[Review] AA2 The Red Mausoleum


The Red Mausoleum

Author: James C. Boney
Contents: 16 saddle stitched black and white pages, 1 title page, 14 pages of adventure, and 1 open game license page.
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
Product Code: XRP6101
Retail Price: £6.00 or $11.00

Overview

A stand alone adventure for 6-8 characters of levels 12-15, this is a brutal three level dungeon crawl designed to challenge powerful characters and experienced players alike. The background and introductory material take up about a page or so, outlining the events leading up to the involvement of the player characters and providing a brief description of a small hamlet, Rausen Point, which lies on the edge of the Sistermoors and serves as the starting point for the adventure. The plot is straightforward enough, the gnomish settlement of Grent has been sacked by black armoured raiders and their undead minions, encounters with which have been steadily increasing in recent months. The source of the threat is thought to be an ancient mausoleum, and so the local baron and gnomish laird have offered sizeable rewards to any brave enough to venture into the Sistermoors, descend into the catacombs, and put an end to the undead menace.

Following the introduction, there is a page or so devoted to traversing the dangers of the Sistermoors, the monsters that might be found there, and the frequency with which they might be encountered. Of particular note is a Druid called Sywlgan, who may frustrate or aid the adventurers, depending on what they tell him and his own variable inclination. These wilderness hazards appear designed to wear down the resources of the player characters prior to reaching the mausoleum, and the game master is encouraged not to be sparing with them, but skilful play can greatly reduce the time spent wandering the moors.

The dungeon itself takes up around ten pages of the module, the last two pages of adventure being given over to describing two new magical items and three new monsters. On arriving at the mausoleum, the first difficulty that the adventurers must overcome is gaining entrance, a task that focuses on challenging the players and sets the tone for the rest of the module. To be sure, there are plenty of powerful monsters to be overcome, and the lord of the mausoleum is a formidable adversary, but how the players handle the traps and puzzles will almost certainly be the deciding factor as to their success or failure.

I do not really have much in the way of complaints. I thought more could have been made of the wilderness encounters, and found the veritable menagerie of monsters in the Hall of Honoured Dead to be a little too wacky for my tastes. Also, and as others have pointed out, there are a lot of undead in the lower levels that pose almost no threat to a high level party, but some of that depends on the presence (and survival) of a cleric, how exactly the turn undead rules are implemented, and how the game master runs the dungeon.

About the only thing I think this module is missing is access to pregenerated player characters, which failing inclusion in the product itself could have been included online. I have never known any characters who reached as high as levels 12-15, and would expect those that did to potentially vary considerably in terms of power. Whilst I could always use pregenerated characters from other modules, their absence renders this module somewhat inaccessible to those without examples.

Technicalities and Errors

As might be expected, this module has a few editing errors here and there, such as inconsistent use of ‘Sistermoors’ and ‘Sister-moors’, but I did not notice anything much more significant than that. I thought it was a little strange to devote nearly a quarter of a page to the potential encounter with Sywlgan the druid, and then assign him only a one in a hundred chance of turning up on the wilderness encounter table. Similarly, I thought the half page devoted to Rausen Point was either too little to get a feel for the place or too much to serve as a springboard.

Conclusion

Overall, I thought this was a great adventure, aesthetically reminiscent of the modules it does homage to, and very much in their tradition. The art on the title page is particularly evocative of the perils of traditional adventure games, and the same feeling that one misstep could spell disaster is maintained throughout. Well worth picking up, both for those who would like to play using high level characters and those who are interested in ways to challenge them in the dungeon environment.


Alternative Reviews: Anthony Roberson, Gnarley Bones,

2 comments:

James Boney said...

Thank you for a just review of my module. I learned a lot from writing it.

Matthew James Stanham said...

No problem, I enjoyed reading and reviewing the Red Mausoleum; it looks like I might even get the chance to run it in the next few months, though it will be with player characters generated for the occasion, rather than as part of an ongoing campaign. I am looking forward to it!