Posted by: NiTessine | July 7, 2008

Review: Indulgences, First Wave

A couple of months ago I noted the existence of Sinister Adventures, a small gaming company helmed by Nicolas Logue, also known for being the campaign manager of Pathfinder Society and the writer of great many excellent adventure modules, such as The Hook Mountain Massacre from Paizo Publishing.

While Sinister Adventures’ flagship product, the non-linear mega-adventure Razor Coast, failed to appear on time, they have released two sets of really cheap, small pdf downloads, called Indulgences. I picked up all eight last week for the total price of $18 for what amounts to 76 pages of material (and eight pages of Open Gaming Licences), and have been reading them over the weekend (well, the bits I didn’t spend drunk or hungover, at least).

The first two waves of Indulgences are designed to support Razor Coast, with side treks, individual encounters and nifty rules items. I expect they’ll do one more wave of Razor Coast stuff before going on to write material for The Ebon Shroud, a horror-themed megamodule slated to come out for Halloween, written by Logue and Richard Pett.

Razor Coast is a pirate-themed module. The Indulgences feature references to firearms and cannons, there’s an evil shark god and the Tulita, a tribe of native humans who worship Pele, the volcano goddess. Overall, it looks very spiffy. Here, then, my thoughts on the first four Indulgences.

The Indulgences use D20 System, and their prices are such that regardless of what I say about them, they’re all worth the price. Especially to us Europeans, with the dollar being what it is.

Dajobas, Devourer of Worlds, by Nicolas Logue

This one introduces us to Dajobas, the shark god, imprisoned deep beneath the sea and ever trying to escape his bonds, that he might eat the world. The Indulgence, clocking in at eight pages, has first the myths and legends and Tulita history associated with Dajobas, and then a pile of rules items for the shark god’s followers. Also, it opens up with a really nifty illustration of Dajobas, a colossal shark, eating an entire ship in the middle of a fierce storm.

Firstly, there’s a new domain, Hunger. Personally, I consider it better than the Hunger domain from Spell Compendium, which would’ve been more aptly called “Ghoul”. However, I think I’d substitute the Gluttony domain from the same book (not that the differences are great). The new Hunger domain is all PHB stuff – no new spells here.

Then there’s a divine servant of Dajobas, a monster called drolsharg. It’s a green giant with a lot of shark jaws, especially on its chest. If you’re having trouble visualising, we’re in the same boat. The art for the drolsharg is pretty bad and doesn’t really give an idea of what it looks like. The drolsharg has the ability to infect other creatures with lycanthropy, turning them into weresharks. Nifty.

Following the drolsharg, there are four feats for Dajobas’ followers, which I think are good in concept but don’t exactly shine in execution. There’s Blood Hunter, which allows the character to ignore all concealment if its target is bleeding, which is problematic because of the hit point mechanic’s level of abstraction and whether someone is bleeding or not is up to the DM – unless, of course, “bleeding” means “taking continual damage from some source”. Which it does not specify. Another feat makes you immune to Con damage and Con drain in certain circumstances, which is overly powerful for something that can be taken at first level. Both of these do require Chosen of the Shark God in prerequisite which places them pretty firmly in NPC land, though, but I prefer PCs and NPCs to operate under the same rules. The fourth feat, Reaver’s Frenzy, is okay.

Then there’s a pair of magic items, teeth of Dajobas and snapping jaw. They’re both under the heading of Magic Weapons, though the latter is a wondrous item (a magic alligator jaw that flies to the enemy and gnaws).

There’s a prestige class, too, called the dalang of Dajobas. It’s a five-level prestige class for divine servants of other deities who have been converted to the worship of the Shark God, who thus feeds on their worshiper base. The dalang of Dajobas is interesting, though the formatting drives me up the wall. It gets a type of rage, spellcasting, and various shark-related abilities. However, the abilities are listed in alphabetical order rather than the traditional progression by level, which is annoying. The prestige class is accompanied by a sample NPC, Varog Gorebeard.

Overall, I’d consider this one quite good, though the weakest Indulgence of the first wave. While the feats are a bit iffy, the PCs in no normal party would ever get their hands on them, and a Con damage immunity is a lot less powerful for an NPC than it is for a PC. I love the background on Dajobas, too.

Art of the Duel, by Craig Shackleton

Art of the Duel is a look into duelling and duellists, in six pages. It’s got a very good, atmospheric piece of opening fiction, and goes from there to a short history of the rapier and the duel.

Then it presents three variant rapiers and two variant daggers, which give small bonuses to certain combat manoeuvres, or a +1 AC when using Combat Expertise. There’s also a special combat manoeuvre, bind, which allows you to trap your opponent’s weapon with your own. This lets you then try to sunder or disarm without provoking an attack of opportunity, and with a bonus to the roll. I think this is pretty cool and flavourful, and its introduction to the game might lead to disarm being used by people other than spiked chain monsters, or sunder by anyone, at all, ever.

The main attraction here, though, are the feats, all 11 of them. While there’s one, Challenge to a Duel, that I don’t like (too reminiscent of an aggro management mechanic, reduces a point of roleplaying to a few die rolls), the rest are pretty good. Of note is the Responsive Duelist feat chain. Responsive Duelist allows you to make an attack of opportunity when an enemy attacks you, and its six follow-up feats build on that theme. Though I haven’t seen this in action, on paper it seems to very satisfyingly simulate a dialogue of blades.

Art of the Duel, in a word, rocks.

Death Beneath the Waves, by Wolfgang Baur

Death Beneath the Waves is a primer for underwater adventuring, in six pages. Mostly it consists of DM tricks and tips for getting the party into the drink, keeping them there and managing things like tactical combat in three dimensions.

There’s also a pair of spells for surviving the immediate dangers of underwater adventuring, like pressure, cold, and the lack of air. Good, helpful utility stuff.

Finally, the pdf gives the PCs something to kill while down there, an underwater dragon known as the benthic serpent, complete with an example serpent villain named Olaus the Grey, and a series of encounter ideas for him throughout the campaign.

Death Beneath the Waves has possibly the best advice I’ve seen on underwater adventuring in D&D, and I’ve seen a great deal. If you’re thinking of taking your campaign down into the depths, you could do a lot worse than pick up this little gem.

Blood Waters, by Greg A. Vaughan

Blood Waters is an adventure for 7th-level characters, in 13 pages. It takes the party underwater and gives you the excuse to use Death Beneath the Waves – and unfortunately, that’s about the length and breadth of its merits.

The condensed format of Blood Waters really doesn’t do it any favours. The plot revolves around saving a kingdom of locathah from an evil plot, and the brevity kinda hurts the inherent epicness involved in that. What should be a longer adventure is reduced to a couple of random encounters, a simple investigation and a short dungeon crawl. It’s not badly constructed as such, but there simply isn’t enough of material in this to make it compelling. It especially hurts the sense of wonder. The party is getting immersed in an entirely new and strange setting, but it really amounts to just another adventure with a couple of different combat rules.

I do understand the difficulty of involving land-based PCs in a longer adventure undersea, though – you have to provide them with some way to breathe, which can be difficult if you don’t just hand out rings of water breathing. Death Beneath the Waves had some suggestions on that, though.

There’s still a solid adventure somewhere in here, but it’s a lot of work to the end user.

There is a reason to blow the three bucks this will cost you, though. The pdf also includes a pair of druid spells to facilitate underwater adventuring, and the wave-cursed template, a cousin of the amphibious creature template from Stormwrack and its ilk.


Responses

  1. […] Indulgences, Second Wave Yesterday, I went over the first wave of Sinister Adventures‘ mini-pdfs, Indulgences. Something […]


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