Classic Review by Yair Rezek
The Last Initiate is a small adventure for 4 to 6 characters of 5th or 6th level. At 44 pages and 11.00$ it comes out at 0.25$ per page.
This is a playtest review.
To be precise, for your 11$ you get:
2.5 pages for credits, TOC, & introduction.
2.5 pages of backstory
1 page wilderness encounter map.
22 pages of locations and adventure
7 pages of game-statistics appendix, including new magic item, monsters, and so on.
8 pages of art, 7 of which contain good & useful maps.
1 handout (map & note)
(I don't count the cover et al)
The adventure's hook is finding the remains of a long-dead cleric, with a note and map leading to his lost temple. The party is to explore the temple, finding that it is occupied by enemies but possibly finding allies too. If they are successful in defeating or aligning themselves with a powreful ghost, or if they are inventive enough, they can come out with the Wonders of Creation (unique magical items) as their reward.
The adventure has few (about 2 at most, with one being EL 13) wilderness encounters.
There are many, many traps throught the adventure.
The main adventure is essentially a dungeon crawl, contains many CR 5 (3 HD) undead, with only a few non-undead diversions (such as giant wasps). Around the temple, however, there are several such encounters.
The Review Proper (spoliers abound)
The Last Initiate served me well to fill a few evenings and for that it deserves full credit. There are, however, some flaws in it that prevent me from giving a full 5 grade.
This is a playtest review. Keep in mind that my adventuring party is somewhat unusual - it contains three characters of the fey'ri race (a +2 level adjustment winged race): a fighter 3, a wizard 3, and a rouge 3. The last (4th) memeber is a human bard 5. It is also evil. The party completed the adventure with little difficulty, except for the last encounter, due to no small amount to the bard's dimplomacy (more on that below).
The adventure begins with the hook - finding the fallen body of a long-dead cleric, with a note about his temple and the mysterious "Wonders of Creation". The complete lack of alternative hooks is a slight problem, but not considerable. The hook is standard, but should work on almost any group (for my party, it was the lure of gold). The adventure is also general enough to allow one to insert it later with another hook, or to tie it to other hooks to lure the characters to revisit it.
The temple is to the "artificer deity", which sounds like it can be easily replaced with any artificer-like deity (a la Moradin). It can't, really. The adventure is all around constructs, and not-too-good ones at that; it fits well the gnomes it is meant to protray, but if you wish to replace them with dwarves (as I did) you will need to chagne a few things (especially the wonders of creation - more on these to follow).
From finding the body, the characters go on a small trek I found somewhat uninspired. I failed to understand why following the river will lead them into an orc camp, whereas crisscrossing the mountains won't, but that's not a blur on the adventre, just a personal pick.
In reaching the temple, my players first explored the sorounding of it. It was then that I noticed the first inconsistency - there are supposedly two hippogriffs in the mines. They need to eat, which means that they should come out to hunt now and then. The text makes no mention of this; this is especially irritating as a wilderness encounter table is given, but they are not mentioned in it. I had the pair come out at some point (the players stayed the night outside the temple).
The temple was supposedly overrun by orcs, and defended by the gnomes (to their virtual extinction). Yet there are no orcish bodies around… supposedly all the fighting took place inside, then. Fine, except there are very few orc bodies inside (and these too are only undead), and no gnomes except for undead ones (and the sole survivor); I found that unfitting of a carnage scene, and added some corpses and carnage.
While it isn't written in the right entries, you should take care to describe the entire vista of the temple's soroundings from the bridge, and note the hole in the wall should they approach the water-wheel or circle the building.
Most of the challenges can be easily met by force. Eliciting the aid of Rumblekin, the sole survivor, will greatly assist the characters as otherwise he could reset the traps. The information on rumblekin was extensive, although I found it strangely lacking in exactly what he will DO, but enough is given to extrapolate that.
There are two difficult encounters in the adventure - the high temple (EL 8, automatons) and the spirit of the abbot (EL 10, Balthazar, a cleric ghost). (Possibly also the entrance encounter would be difficult - my party circumvented the entrance by going through a hole in the walls. The writers deserve kudos for providing such options.)
The ghost is obviously extremely difficult for most 5th or 6th level parties to defeat, especially if his Int 14 is played to effect. I've found it useful to limit his presence to his private chambers, but this is not mentioned in the adventure. I also found the lack of Sense Motive, Diplomacy, etc. for the ghost annoying; while it isn't in the standard statistics block, knowing he will probably talk to the players providing the totals for these skills would have been helpful (even if he has no ranks in them).
In my game the bard talked the ghost into aiding the party, which is really the only way to deal with it. Unless the ghost is confined to his quarters, killed (yeah, right), or persuaded otherwise he will stop the adventure it its tracks, protecting the wonders of creation. This also brought the sole survivor (Rumblekin) on their side, which made everything else much easier.
One of the major flaws in the adventure is the inclusion of a Mace of Smiting in the ghost's chambers. While I understand the reasoning, this is simply a far too powerful item to give to PCs at this level.
The high temple (EL 8) encounter should be avoidable for good parties, especially with the aid of Rumblekin. It is probably even tougher, as it combines with three traps. I'd caution the DM to change the glyphs on the stairs, though; blindness at this stage is quite disastrous, and I don't like choosing between life and death at random ("left or right").
I strongly encourage the DM to monitor what gears the PCs acquired, and where all the gears in the adventure are. You need a certain number of gears, each of a certain metal, and it is difficult to get them all. You may want to add gears, or to change Rumblekin's gear in mid-game (I did; I didn't want them to go gear-hunting).
After defeating/circumventing the automatons, the PCs will recover the Wonders of Creation. That's a problem. The wonders, as they are presented in the adventure, are largely useless automatons, the kind you'd expect crazy gnomes to build. If this fits your style and the way you want to run the adventure, fine; I wanted a more somber tone, and had to change them (along with the Artificer deity to Moradin, and the race to dwarves). Doing so is tricky, as you don't want to give too powerful items (Mace of Smiting, anyone?), yet don't want to lose the "wonder" of the wonders. So you have your work cut out for you.
Personally, I chose to go symbolic and had the wonders of creation truly be the wonders of creation - the first leaf, that will blossom as long as there is life in Toril; the first wind, captured in a seashell; an ember from the first fire, that will burn as long the there is a spark of heat in the world; the water of Toril (ALL of them, in a heavy cup), and the world itself ("I've got the whole world in the palm of my hand!" ehm…). This totally freaked out the players, that did not have a clue what to do with these kind of powerful wonders… but may be more suited to epic levels than 5th level; as I said, you've got to figure out your own solution.
In a Nutshell
The Last Initiate provided a decent, solid adventure for my game. It is easy to incorporate it into most campaigns, but unless you want a gnomish-inventor-freaks theme you WILL need to put in some thought in reworking it - particularly it's cap-items, the wonders of creation themselves.
The writers also showed some lack of forethought in not limiting Balthazar to his quarters (which pigeon-holes the PCs to either defeating him in combat or convincing him they are artificer-friendly adventurers - I consider this a railroading, YMMV), and were completely off-key with the Mace of Smiting (yes, a minor detail, but try taking a mace of smiting from a 3rd level fighter…).
Overall, the adventure worked well, but this I expect from every adventure. It would fit easily enough into a campaign, but lacks somewhat in originality and motivation, and requires some reworking.
It isn't perfect or close enough to merit a 5, but since the bulk of the adventure is perfectly OK and served me well I gave it a 4.
Those interested in more complex plot or immersive roleplaying will probably not enjoy this adventure much. Those wanting a wacky gnome-inventions motif could probably milk it for more.