Classic Review by Yair Rezek
It is not my custom to review products I don't like, but tEoC stood out for me so much that I decided to make an exception. It is an adventure for character levels 4-6, published by WorldWorks (better known for its marvelous paper-model printouts). I bought it as a 45-page pdf file for 10$.
In addition to the adventure itself the document contains pregenerated characters, paper stand-ins to represent the PCs and monsters (miniature replacements), and new monsters. It also contains construction instructions for ChunkyDungeons (a WorldWorks product) along with a few new pieces that allow you to build the key location. Even though I don't own the ChunkyDungeons product, all these paraphernalia are of good quality and should be useful. They of course take up space.
The adventure itself (sans new monster MM-like entries and paraphernalia) spans only 15 pages (pages 9 to 26). It is here where the product fails, for the adventure is just bad. It has a good premise, excellent support, but the meat is just not there. I was very disappointed, and the rest of this review is a detailed explanation of exactly what I found lacking in the adventure and why. It is somewhat of a rant.
This is not a playtest review. I did use parts of the adventure, but not enough to be considered a playtest.
SPOILER ALERT: MAJOR SPOILERS FROM HERE ON END!
The adventure premise is that baron Fortier is murdered, and his son wrongly accuses the son of baron Delmar. The PCs are to retrieve the Eye of Cappellasis, an artifact capable of revealing lies, for the trial of baron Delmar's son or else the two baronies will go to war.
I liked the premise - it is political, which is a good change. I figured I could plant it into my game with a little adaptation and deepen the character's involvement in the setting. Good.
The trouble begins at the beginning: the adventure begins with baron Delmar charging into the tavern where the players are, basically weeping and beseeching them to find the Eye to prove the innocence of his son. This scene is riddled with problems.
The authors and I apparently differ on the power a castle owning baron wields. The adventure maintains that he sent his militia to the border, so has no men at his disposal to retrieve the Eye even to save the life of his son. I find this highly unreasonable. The thought of such a powerful man breaking up in tears in the local tavern makes me very uncomfortable as well. I don't like this beginning at all.
The son apparently cannot simply evade the trial, as that will disown Delmar from all his land. That's some penal code you got there. I don't think it ever existed in history - what a way to pressure your parents! “Give me my hawk, dad, or I'll be bad and then won't go to trial and you will lose everything! Muhahahaha!”
There is apparently no one trustworthy to cast discern lies or zone of truth at the trial. Not a trustworthy level 3 cleric in all the land. That's actually not a problem in my game, but I suspect it will be in most campaigns. No explanation is given for this. The PCs may want to resolve the situation by casting such spells at trial; this possibility is not addressed at all in the text.
The baron comes ready with a plan (to find the Eye), but it is unclear why the judge will accept the Eye's verdict. Nothing that can't be fudged, but putting one's faith in the eye of a fallen demigod of evil and destruction is not really the natural thing to do.
The characters then need to find the Eye. The baron knows it is rumored to be somewhere in a ruined temple to the north, and the locals can tell only one such place exists. If that's not enough, the characters will meet thugs from the cult holding it along the road. I found all this somewhat railroady, I think better or at least other ways to find the Eye should have been covered.
There are a group of cult thugs harassing a bard up the road. If the party interferes the cult's emblem plus the bard's knowledge can clue them in on the cult's location. The scene is a bit strange as it is the bard that has his weapon drawn while the thugs have their sheathed, and I find it strange the cultists fight to the death. Likewise there is no treatment of allowing the bard in the party to gain the bard's knowledge with a bardic knowledge check.
The cult's thugs are all fighters. That's not all, as the adventure unfolds it becomes evident all the cult followers are fighters. That's some disciplined, well-trained, militaristic cult! This is just a bad application of D&D classes; the cultists should have warriors, adepts, experts, clerics, rouges, maybe even bards, barbarians, AND perhaps a few fighters (probably mercenaries). I personally would change the cult thugs to mercenaries, and the cultists to adepts led by a cleric. The all-fighter routine gets old real quick, lacks variety and realism, and is just not sound. A cult without divine leaders? A chaotic cult with highly-disciplined warriors? A hidden cult that has an intensive martial training grounds? It doesn't fit.
The PCs supposedly find their way to the temple, overcome the sentries, and dive below to find a cadre of cultists preparing for some ritual. The (all-fighter, of course) cultists charge them, and a merry battle ensues where the PCs kill everyone in the complex in that one room. I actually liked that, reinforcements will clearly arrive in a few seconds to see what the commotion is about, it makes sense. (In my campaign some of the guards escaped below and the characters tarried above, giving them even more time to prepare an ambush.)
The other rooms are mostly empty of denizens then. But most doors are locked, and the lock can't be picked. The PCs must go to find a key that matches the door, a kind of puzzle of the worse kind (they must go to room 3, then 4, then 5, then 6; the rooms do not lead to each other as their numbers might imply). This reminds me of a bad video quest game, where you must collect all the items. I would get rid of the unpickable locks on most doors, thank you.
The door is locked and cannot be picked. Any attempt to do so by a Rogue will reveal that there is no physical reason it cannot be picked. Inspection by a Sorceror or Wizard will reveal that this door is magically locked with a powerful spell that requires a specific physical key.
The “Butterfly Key” is the only item that can open this door.
West Door Leads to Room 5.
One room contains a trap where a bridge that the characters moved across collapses after them. The temple is supposed to be in ruins and after centuries of disuse, and yet the bridge is still there. It holds a key that is needed to open rooms that are, it seems, regularly used. I found the trap very unreasonable, and ignored the room in my campaign.
Another room contains a wizard (?) that comes down the stairs, mumbles incoherently, and then gets shredded by mantis-like beasts he mistakenly unleashed. The players are left to kill the mantises. I found the scene somewhat incoherent, but it is a reasonable one (given the wizard's lab below). I would personally get rid of the eaten horses at the site (a stable), and let the “wizard” summon the creatures and then leave, using them to slow down the PC's pursuit.
The most important room is the one containing the map. On a pedestal (in a cool room!) is a box inside which is a map with a piece torn off, leading to the Eye (located within the missing part, of course). I don't understand this situation at all. Why is the map torn? Why do they keep the map there? It just doesn't make any sense to me, and I'll personally ignore it.
The dungeon also contains lots of books. Apparently they all contain information, but the PCs can't read it. Even with magic. Or decipher script. WHY are so heavy-handed measures taken? Would it have hurt to allow the PCs to dwell on the book's contents if they so desire? Again this is a special rule to negate player options and keep them focused on how the writer wants the plot to unfold - just like the doors that can't be picked, or the only ruins being in the north. Or perhaps a lazy brush-off of “unimportant” stuff.
Following the map leads them to an encounter with Murk, the only self-serving and interesting member of this organization of self-serving chaotic people. He commands a few men, whom he orders to charge the PCs while he makes his escape. He has the missing portion of the map, which he hands over to the PCs should they catch him. His escape is apparently important to the story, so he is given a ring of regeneration and a ring of expeditious retreat which work even though he doesn't actually wear them, even after his death, and apparently will not be removed or noticed by the players… I didn't like that bit at all.
GM Note: It is important that Murk survive. If the players attempt to slay him, at first opportunity, Murk will use the Ring of Expeditions Retreat. If the characters do “kill” him, the hidden rings remain hidden as his Ring of Regeneration will allow him to survive.
He is a fun, mock-you-till-you're-blue-in-the-face kind of guy and the first real chance for diplomacy and talk. Not that the adventure allows for a diplomatic resolution of the situation, just banter.
The map fragment leads the PCs to the guardian of the Eye, following a few encounters with strange beasts (new monsters). The all-new monsters theme is not something I really like but the monsters can be easily replaced by others and used in other adventures. Some of the creatures I found very interesting, such as the doppledragons or the guardian itself, and I'm sure I'll use them elsewhere. I am not sure about their CRs being right, but I can't really tell. Anyways including them doesn't hurt the adventure and adds original content, so I think it's all good.
The guardian is apparently a paladin's skull trapped in an animated armor protecting the Eye. That's a neat idea. It is, unfortunately, a stupid creature. It will deliver the Eye to anyone who is not a “servant of the One Hundred Handed Tyrant”, Cappellasis. Or to anyone who says he isn't (at least its got a decent Sense Motive check). With no ability to discern lies (except his +16 Sense Motive), a willingness to part with his charge, and being stuck in its position which brings about a tactical disadvantage, it just isn't a good guardian.
When the players exit with the Eye they will be ambushed by Murk and palls. Murk boasts he used them to take the Eye from the guardian, and the PCs then proceed to kick their combined… ah, you know. Again I say that Murk shouldn't be that stupid. It is unclear to me what he was doing with a torn map there to begin with, and he surely did not engineer a plan that involved him being killed off by the PCs. The writers created a good, smart, self-serving character but failed to carry through with real intelligent plans.
Then the PCs reach the court in the nick of time, the Eye reveals that the baron's son is not lying when he says he didn't kill the old baron, and the PCs are heroes. A nice, corny, ending.
The issue of who DID kill the baron is not addressed. The DM has to fill in the blanks. Another big blank is why is the baron's son accused to begin with - what is the evidence against him, if any? The details of the “case” are not discussed at all! In my campaign, that's the first thing the players focused on.
Cappellasis, in case you were wondering, is a demigod of chaos, evil, and destruction. “The Eye of Callepasis” is an artifact allowing to cast discern lies 1/day but with a large radius, allowing all within range to see if someone is lying. The saving throw DC is not provided. I would have made it a little more powerful, but kept it as an artifact to boost the save DC so that the device would be trustworthy. But my main problem with it is that it really isn't related at all to the demigod's description, it is unclear why its eye will provide this ability.
The cult of Cappellasis is extensively detailed, along with its many strata and the self-serving interests of its members. It is dedicated to bringing chaos, evil, and destruction to the world. Not something related to lies or truth, after all one needs villains and such villains would not be clear cut. (I would have the evil cult want to use the Eye, that has other powers of divination and is not their god's artifact.) It is highly chaotic and apparently secretive (which must be why all its members are fighters and not, say, rouges). The higher strata are enmeshed in the esoteric lore of their demigod and wield divine magic (yet the adventure doesn't boast any clerics). In other words, it is described as a fairly typical chaotic evil cult, but all you see in the adventure are iron-willed well-trained fighters that fight to the death for the (un)holy cause - this doesn't fit with the cult's description!
One idea I liked a lot was that Cappellasis apparently has a hundred hands, and the top strata in the cult is a “hand”… there are always 100 of them. That's a neat idea.
The adventure has a very nice premise, and all the components for a great adventure: an ancient artifact, an evil cult, two baronies at the brink of war… but it is poorly executed, often nonsensical, leaves huge gaps in the story, and overlooks or crudely blocks many PC options.
I took from it the premise, some elements, and will likely use the excellent paraphernalia and some of the new monsters. But the adventure itself needed so much change to be usable that it was hardly useful as anything but a seed.
There are salvageable elements to this product, but I found that I just couldn't use it as an adventure, which is ultimately what it is sold as.
I decided to give it a score of 2 (out of 5), for the monsters and graphics and the nice premise.