Friday, May 27, 2011

[Review] AA8 The Seven Shrines of Nav'k-Qar


The Seven Shrines of Nav'k-Qar

Author: James C. Boney
Contents: 12 saddle stitched black and white pages, 1 title page, 9 pages of adventure, 1 page of Your Games Now and Other World Miniatures advertisements, and 1 open game license page.
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
Product Code: XRP6108
Retail Price: £7.00 or $12.00

Overview

An adventure for 6-8 characters of levels 8-12, the Seven Shrines of Nav'k-Qar is a straightforward two level dungeon crawl with a strong theme. The physical product has a glossy cover stock and durable internal pages, onto which the text and black and white maps have been clearly printed. Both the front and back cover illustrations by Bradley K. McDevitt are atmospheric and complement one another by contrasting two related scenes with different degrees of action. Including the title page, there are four interior drawings by Jeff Womack, each related to events and encounters in the module. Of these, the title page is the most compelling composition, depicting a group of adventurers apparently deliberating over how to deal with the smiling stone golem in area fourteen of the first level. Two of the remaining illustrations are of new monsters introduced in the appendices, and the last shows the focus of an encounter area. Although more interior art would be welcome, and the frequency varies considerably by module, the use of diverse artists in the Advanced Adventures series is much appreciated, as is the overall stylistic continuity, which speaks to a skilful choice of illustrators.

Very little space is given over to the premise of the scenario, just two paragraphs outlining the history of the titular toad cult of Nav’k-Qar and how the seven shrines came to be abandoned, whilst the introductory text contains the entirety of the otherwise unreferenced adventure hook. Unusually, there is also some advice to the game master with regard to fairness and moderation of the effects of randomness, which is probably not strictly necessary. A selection of rumours and wilderness encounters are provided as a precursor to entering the dungeon, the latter including swamp orcs and an adult black dragon, as well as several other interesting or environmentally suitable items. The dungeon itself also has several thematic and atmospheric features that help to give it a unique feel, such as the poisonous walls or the virtual carpet of toad bones covering the floors. On the other hand, the ogre and bugbear guardians held in suspended animation seem somewhat out of place, though such things are perhaps inherent to the design sensibilities of the author. Nevertheless, this feels like a missed opportunity to invent or use something more indicative of the degeneracy of the toad cult and its presumably twisted activities prior to being overthrown.

There is very little treasure to be had on the first level of the dungeon, but plenty of interesting and deadly encounters, so player characters that do not make use of divination magic, or otherwise fail to take sufficient steps to determine what they are facing, will be in for a hard time of things. By contrast, the second level is very linear in design; three sets of shrines must be entered and defeated, each pair in turn so as to gain entry to the next, before the seventh shrine finally becomes accessible. The challenges in these areas are heavily combat orientated, which is a bit of a pity as more puzzles would certainly have been welcome at this stage in the adventure, as would more latitude with regards to methods of bypassing the dangers. Once within the final sanctuary the party is confronted by almost an avatar of Nav’k-Qar himself, which should makes for a difficult battle and a fitting climax. Nonetheless, it is possible to come away from this module practically empty handed in terms of treasure; diligent parties will be well rewarded, but they run the risk of a final deadly obstacle in typical swords & sorcery style. As the introductory text warns, there are numerous places in the module where an unfortunate party could be wiped out.

Technicalities and Errors

In terms of grammar and editing there is very little to complain about, though the "chamber of dispair" on page four is a notable exception. As with the majority of Advanced Adventures preceding this one, there is a tendency towards using a hyphen instead of a "true" negative and it seems strange to see "1/2" in preference to "½", but the usage is consistent and so nothing more than minor gripes. Other very insignificant errors or inconsistencies include a colon after "HP" on page four, "d6" instead of "1d6" on page ten, the unnecessary pluralisation of the abbreviation "HP" to "HPs" in several places, and the appearance of "1-4+1" rather than "2-5" on pages four and five. In the latter case there is also an instance of "1-12+5" on page nine, but maybe that is a preferable notation to "6-17". That this is a module originally designed for use with the Old School Reference and Index Compilation and not a conversion from another system is evident throughout; indeed, the author has made full use of its terminology and potential. It might have been useful to include, for ease of reference, the movement rates for the various monsters in addition to their armour class, hit dice and damage, especially considering the environmental movement restrictions in the dungeon.

Conclusion

Whilst the Seven Shrines of Nav'k-Qar is perhaps not as strong an offering as the earlier modules penned by James C. Boney, it reads well and is bound to provide a satisfactory high level play experience. As with the three previous scenarios he has authored for the Advanced Adventures line, the most significant way in which this adventure could be improved is not in terms of quality but quantity. For instance, the concept could certainly be extended to a wilderness hex exploration of a partially swamp submerged and ruined city containing the eponymous seven shrines, with lizard men, bullywugs, swamp orcs, cultists, and worse vying over the drowned and broken remains. However, that probably goes rather beyond the scope of what can really be effectively conveyed in a standard sixteen page or even thirty-two page module, and as it stands the length and structure are well suited to a four to six hour tournament slot. Whilst the design is not particularly ambitious, it is certainly effective. A party of player characters of the appropriate levels should find the dungeon a difficult and entertaining challenge. Furthermore, they can consider themselves to have achieved something of note if they emerge relatively unscathed and victorious.

2 comments:

Joseph Browning said...

Thanks for the review!

Matthew James Stanham said...

Glad to write it! It is great to see so many modules published or scheduled to be so for the Advanced Adventures series.