Thursday, February 1, 2018

Review: Deadly Delves Reign of Ruin

Reign of Ruin is a 34 page adventure for Swords & Wizardry by Jon Brazer Enterprises, suitable for a party of 6th level PCs. In terms of transparency I received a complimentary copy for review purposes.

The book opens up with some starting fiction and background. The background is a set-up for the adventure, where the descendant of a long-dead black dragon tyrant mobilizes her minions to menace the warm-blooded races who her forebear terrorized so long ago. The backstory is a bit wordy and rather specific with proper names and regions. I feel that it could be shortened considerably to be more generic for the purposes of individual campaigns.

As for the present era, the plot hook for the party to get involved is via a scout’s last dying words of the razed city of Northam and its need for reinforcements. The other hook involves traveling merchants explaining in more detail that the Ixtupi (lizardmen devotees of the black dragon) have come to attack the village as revenge. Once the PCs get to the town, they find it in the aftermath of a massacre, with a few clues pointing to the identities and motives for their attackers in the form of a survivor’s testimony and draconic graffiti. The clues give a relatively good sense of the opposition for a canny group of players (corpses whose flesh seems to have dissolved off their bodies which is the result of acidic breath weapon), but overall I feel that this adventure could have had a stronger start if it began proper with the party arriving in the town. The merchant adventure hook is too much “tell, not show” and ideally the site of an attacked settlement alone should be enough to attract the PC’s attention.

Further encounters before the main dungeon itself include the village of Mistlevy (the raiders’ next target) and a swamp encounter where the Ixtupi are fighting a rival tribe of lizardfolk. In both of these encounters there is quite a fair number of enemies, but also potential allied NPCs to fight alongside. This does a good job of preventing characters from feeling overwhelmed, but on the other hand risks the GM rolling “against himself” a fair bit if their gaming group is slower-paced. A good idea may be to grant the players the opportunity to control said NPCs; I did this in various campaigns, which made my gaming group feel more engaged with the battle.

Additionally the first encounter has a point where the black dragon main villain makes a personal appearance to wreak havoc before fleeing back to her temple headquarters. The intent of the adventure is that the party will face her down in the heart of her lair, with the first encounter as a taste of things to come. Although mobile and strong like many dragons, the old adage “if it has stats, the players can kill it” holds strong. A bad saving throw or lucky attacks may bring the dragon down at the outset, and given that the final encounter is a pretty clever room full of terrain-based hazards, this would be robbing the gaming group of a good fight later on down the road.

The temple itself has three major levels not counting the aboveground entryway. It has a healthy mix of reptilian monsters, undead, animated objects, and other creature types to prevent combat from getting too monotone. The dungeon is the meat of the adventure, and there are quite a few traps. There was one trap that I liked but felt could have been executed better: stone pillars which summon corrupted elementals if a spellcaster uses magic which deals energy/elemental damage while within their vicinity. It takes an otherwise common tactic of “blast them all” to use against the party in a thematically interesting way. Unfortunately said trap is a one-time occurrence so that it is likely to happen without the players growing aware as to their purpose. A repeat appearances of pillars would engender a cautious mindset in players; they would need to weigh whether they risk using powerful magic against the enemies currently arrayed against them, but at the possibility of biting off more than they can chew. Another involves a room which fills with acidic water while dragonblood brutes (who are themselves immune to acid) attack the party. A hidden lever can be found during combat to drain the room. I particularly like this touch; it combines monsters and environmental hazards together in a way I don’t see often in many OSR modules.

As for enemies, there are mentions of what happens if the complex goes on alert, notably in the form of kobold slaves acting as messengers. However, most of the intelligent monsters rarely go beyond their own rooms and instead prepare to attack PCs who come to them first. This feels a bit artificial, and while it makes sense in some cases (unintelligent undead and constructs) it would’ve been nice to have suggestions for what rooms monsters would retreat to or use as chokepoints in case of an invasion of the temple. Lord knows the complex has enough traps to exploit for this purpose!

The final encounter with the black dragon overlord has a good description of the room in which the battle will take place, with descriptions of terrain for both the party and for the dragon to use to their advantage.

Miscellaneous Thoughts: The maps for this adventure are well-detailed. Full-color and grid-based, they cover the entirety of the main dungeon as well as the first encounter. The adventure also makes clever use of existing class features. The “Open Doors” roll, for example, is used for various feats of strength such as escaping from the grip of a giant venus flytrap or pushing a fallen stone block trap to reopen a passageway.

The adventure itself is rather expensive for its size ($10 for a 34 page adventure). Given that adventures have limited replay value for gaming groups, this reduces its viability in comparison to other Swords & Wizardry products of similar length but at more affordable prices. I understand the need to make up costs especially given the detail of the maps, but as a consumer it will not be an attractive option.

Clarification: The book's price as a PDF dropped to $6.95

In conclusion, Deadly Delves: Reign of Ruin rates well for an OSR adventure. It has the core idea of a dungeon delve, but the terrains, traps, and enemies are varied and well-detailed enough to keep the players on their toes. Its low points are that the BBEG shows up too early (and thus risks the potential for an early death), as well as the fact that temple has a high enough number of traps to the point of triggering player paranoia which can slow gaming to a crawl. But overall the good outweighs the bad in this dungeon crawl. My final verdict is a 3.5 out of 5 stars, rounded to 3 for the purposes of OneBookShelf.