Thursday, June 12, 2008
The Pod Caverns of the Sinister Shroom
Author: Matthew Finch
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: XRP6100
Retail Price: £5.00 or $10.00
A stand alone adventure for 6-8 characters of levels 2-4, this is an open ended three level dungeon with an unusual theme. The introduction and background material take up less than half a page and describe a relatively straightforward scenario. It seems that a number of animals and people have gone missing from a local village and strange creatures have been sighted in the woods; some of the braver folk have followed the tracks into the hills, but none would enter the fissure into which they eventually led. The villagers have three potions of healing to offer as a reward, but otherwise the game master is largely left to his own devices to attract the interest of the player characters. This relative lack of fiscal enticement places almost all the treasure in the dungeon itself, which allows it to be run in reverse without unduly affecting the available rewards.
After a few brief additional notes that address starting the adventure on the third level, the text moves directly to the dungeon key. There are about twelve pages of keyed locations interspersed with three half page maps and two illustrations, whilst the remaining two pages of the module describe four new monsters. These last include the shrooms, evil and sorcerous creatures that resemble giant toadstools with arms and eyes, and the pod men, vaguely human shaped semi intelligent plants that are often the servants of the former. Of course, it is a shroom that is behind all the trouble, growing pod men in hidden caverns and raiding the surrounding countryside for the means to increase their number, as well as the resources to further his own magical research.
There is a mixture of humour and weirdness in this adventure that is very appealing, and a number of quite strange encounters that are enticingly left otherwise unexplained, no doubt in order to encourage the game master to exercise his own imagination. Some things are perhaps left too vague, such as the mechanism by which the waterfall is diverted in area three, and I thought that the monsters on the third level seemed a little over eclectic, but there is much more that is interesting and inventive. The layout of the caverns is non linear, meaning that player characters are generally not limited to one path between areas, and often have to choose which direction to take.
By way of complaints, I do think that the module is a little bit easy for the recommended number of characters and levels, and would be tempted to reduce the level spread to 1-3, though that is not to say it could not prove a challenge to higher level characters. In particular, I found the inner sanctum of the shroom to be too lightly defended with only two pod men as guards. That said, there are some potentially very deadly encounters, such as the troll in area sixteen.
If there was one thing that I felt was lacking from this adventure, then it was some guidance for wilderness encounters. A particularly cautious party might be willing to wait for some monsters to emerge from the fissure or for a raiding party to return. The frequency of such events and the likely numbers could certainly be inferred or invented, and other wilderness encounters added as the game master desires, but I would have liked to have seen such an addition nonetheless. On the other hand, the module is already so full of material, it is hard to see where such information might be included.
Technicalities and Errors
I noticed some minor editing errors here and there, but nothing of any great significance in that regard. One noticeable error is that flame arrow is listed as a second level spell on page ten of the module, but it is in fact a third level spell. Another interesting oddity is that the shroom’s pod men guards are listed as having 4 hit dice, which is an exception from normal pod men who have 3+1 and large pod men who have 4+1. I do not think this is necessarily a mistake, but it does make a difference with regard to their to hit rolls. It has also been noted that there is no scale provided for the maps, but I suspect this lack is intentional, encouraging the game master to decide what is appropriate for himself.
This is an excellent module, innovative and familiar all at once. It presents traditional adventure design elements in a modern context, and makes sophisticated use of a well developed methodology. This is not a simple retread of the past, nor a mere aping of long out of print predecessors, though aesthetically it clearly recalls them, rather it is an example of the virtue of brevity and the complexity of action that can be achieved with relatively open game design. A very good beginning.
Alternative Reviews: The Red Priest, Gnarley Bones,