Thursday, September 8, 2011

Review of DCC #59 Mists of Madness

I wrapped up my second D&D 4e session in Goodman Games Mists of Madness adventure module last week. It's a full module by Harley Stroh that only costs $2 (disclaimer- I bought the pdf during a recent sale at rpgnow for even less) and is for 1st level parties which is just what I needed. It is advertised as being 32 pages long, but after subtracting the OGL and advertisements is only around 25 pages in length. The adventure follows a well worn plot as the party must defeat a band of evil cultists before they can summon a lich. WARNING- there be spoilers ahead.

First the good parts. The interior art gives it a nice old-school flavor although I do miss the cover style that they used for their 3rd edition modules. The module details a ruined castle and its dungeons in a swamp that are pretty generic and are easily dropped into most any campaign setting. While the main plot of foiling the plans of cultists has been done to death, this one does have a clever twist to it by having a table of curses that characters may either start with as a hook or fall prey to while adventuring in the module. Some of the curses are helpful (but only at expense of others) like- "Anytime an uncursed PC suffers a critical hit, the cursed PC gains 1d6 temporary hp" and some are just evil like "The character develops an insatiable desire for human blood; his maximum hit point total is reduced by 5 every day that he does not indulge the mad craving." These effects were fun to use, but were kind of hard to remember once there were several of them in force.

The best parts of the module for my group were the big fights- the one against the cultists in the castle and then the one against the crazed wizard at the end of the dungeon. These fights were big and fun. Lots of minions to chop up and some fairly tough spellcasters backing them up. Both fights pushed my group almost to their limit and required some sharp tactics to win.

Ok, now the not so good. As written, this module is insanely hard. First, those pc's that have been cursed are supposed to roll saving throws every hour or they get another curse as well. That might be ok if the group could actually be expected to make it through this module in one day but I really doubt that's possible. My group was exhausted completely after fighting the cultists in the castle and needed to rest. Plus they had rescued a hostage which they needed to take back to town. So each cursed pc would have to make 24 saving throws to account for the day's length of time for the rest and the travel to come back which would have given them at least 10 new curses apiece on average. Umm... no, let's not do that. Next up there is an area that spawns an exact shadow clone of each character and they are supposed to ambush the group at some point. How exactly does a fight against an equal foe in every way not end up with half the characters dead? I removed that too. But that's not even the most dickish thing the module does. There is a teleport trap (practically inescapable too, I might add) that teleports the characters to an area with an EL3 fight... without their equipment. If I ran this as written, my group would have quit right then and there and I wouldn't have blamed them. And if they survived that fight without their stuff (my group barely did even with all their equipment), they then get to fight the BBEG still sans equipment. Good luck with that. Oh, and there's still the chance that the lich is summoned and kills them all without a breaking a sweat.

Another thing I had a problem with was that the module felt fairly railroady for a dungeon as there were a couple of areas where you either had no choice of which way to go or your choice really didn't make a difference. For instance, in the teleport trap mentioned above there really is no alternative to jumping into it. The way behind you has been closed off and there is no other way out. Railroaded.

Also, there were a couple of very complicated trap areas that were hard to comprehend as written and really needed a much better diagram of how things worked. The maps in the module were not sufficient in this regard. I ended up guessing and improvising much of the details and probably made the traps easier to deal with than they should have been.

All in all though, we did have fun and for $2 you really can't go very wrong.