Tuesday, September 1, 2009
The Flaming Footsteps of Jilanth
Author: Andrew Hind.
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: XRP6105.
Retail Price: £7.00 or $12.00.
An adventure for 6-8 characters of levels 3-5, the Flaming Footsteps of Jilanth presents a small subtropical isle and three dungeon levels. The physical product is sturdy enough, having a glossy cover stock and durable interior pages, on which the text is clearly printed and the black and white maps are well rendered, but unlike previous offerings the spine seems to wear easily. The cover illustrations by Bradley K. McDevitt are in keeping with the traditional aesthetic, though the image of an enraged carnivorous ape on the front is a little misleading, being only likely to be encountered as a wandering monster, and suggesting a homage to the Isle of the Ape that does not materialise. Including the title page, there are three interior illustrations by John Bingham, which relate directly to the substance of the module.
The premise is fairly straightforward; the Lord Admiral of the port city of Ranste has gone missing, and flaming footsteps, the hallmark of the long dead pirate lord Firebeard, have been seen in the streets. In response, the city council has dispatched the player characters to the isle of Jilanth, a former pirate stronghold, to search for signs that Firebeard might have returned, or else some other indication as to what is going on. The isle is about ten miles in diameter and consists of around seventy hexes. Four of the hexes are keyed as adventure locations, whilst the rest are a mixture of jungle, swamp, hill and mountain terrain types. The random encounter table has thematically appropriate entries for day and night, as well as three special events that each have quarter page descriptions. It is a little strange that the chart allows for the appearance of goblins armed with blowpipes, but not the lizard men whose camp is one of the adventure locations.
Each of the other three keyed locations presents a short dungeon level that consists of around a dozen or so encounter areas. The first of these is a cavern complex that was used by Firebeard and his pirates as a stronghold. The main opposition are giant vermin and skeletal undead, but there is also a mummified voodoo witch to contend with. Further upriver is an abandoned gnome hold, which can also be reached by means of an underground tunnel from the pirate caverns. Once a prosperous copper mine, the gnomes were overwhelmed by an insidious curse. In addition to giant vermin and undead, corrupted creatures known as hold creepers stalk the empty halls of the gnome hold. They have also captured the last surviving member of an ill fated expedition to the pirate caverns, who the adventurers may rescue.
If the players choose to continue following the river or otherwise explore the isle they may discover an entrance to the wizard lair that serves as the third dungeon. However, the magician has been driven out by a wax doppelgänger he created of himself, and languishes in captivity amongst the lizard men. The adventurers may find out about this if they manage to overcome his usurper and other wax creations, or if they encounter the lizard man encampment whilst exploring the wilderness. Should they be able to rescue or in some other way gain access to the magician, then he may reveal that he wears Firebeard's flaming boots, and that he is responsible for the reappearance of the flaming footprints in the streets of Ranste. However, his motives are left up to the discretion of the game, as is the reason for the disappearance of the Lord Admiral.
There is a lot of interesting material here, several new monsters and magic items, as well as a self contained wilderness area to explore. The author has added a twist or two to several conventional monsters, such as the skeletons in the pirate caverns, and generally shows good knowledge of the rules in developing the various encounter areas. It is not clear if the lack of wandering monsters in the lair of the wax wizard is intentional, but it seems a reasonable supposition. There are occasional missteps, such as the blessed ring in the well room, which seems out of keeping with more traditional dungeon elements, but such things show a willingness to explore the boundaries of the game.
Technicalities and Errors
The Flaming Footsteps of Jilanth suffers from the usual editing errors and notation inconsistencies here and there; for instance, hit point spreads are mainly used in place of fractional hit dice, but occasionally, as in the case of the giant centipede, the latter is used. There are also occasionally redundant phrases like "chain mail armour" and references to weapon nomenclature that is not used in the Old School Reference & Index Compilation. It should probably have also been noted next to the various stirge entries that whilst the creature has only 1+1 hit dice it fights as though it has 4. These are very minor technicalities, however, and do little to affect the utility of the module. There are rather a lot of calls for attribute checks, and a few rogue references to boat handling checks, which could probably have been safely excised. On the other hand, defined procedural methods are useful for a module when run under tournament conditions.
This is a module that would benefit from having a tighter focus. As it stands it feels like three short adventures that are otherwise unrelated have been combined. Each dungeon has the potential for significant expansion and seems like the kernel of a larger adventure location. The gnome hold in particular feels like it could have been developed as a completely independent module. Whilst a lot of traditional adventures leave undeveloped hooks to spur on the imagination of the game master, there is rather too much left open and unexplained in the Flaming Footsteps of Jilanth. An abandoned and haunted pirate stronghold on a deserted subtropical isle is a strong concept, and the presence of the wax wizard adds an extra threat, but in the form that they are currently presented the elements are too disparate and not suggestive enough.