Ok so with the last post, and the comments I figured what the hell I may as well jump in and run with a new review. And I wanted to jump in with a long time favorite… well sort of a long time favorite…
Product history first… Originally there were four game modules that were created for tournament play at Gen Con in 1980. TSR updated material a little and then published them for sale in late 1980 through 1981. The titles and designations were as follows – A1 “Slave Pits of the Under City”, A2 “Secrets of the Slavers’ Stockade”, A3 “Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords”, and A4 “In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords”. Early reviews were hot and the series became a fan favorite. In 1986 the setting was altered slightly to make the modules fit into the specific game realm of Greyhawk, and all four of the earlier modules were put together into the collected module Scourge of the Slave Lords. In 2000 there was a supplement printed that was supposed to be a follow up to the Greyhawk version, but… yeah lets not go there… And then in 2013 there came the reprint that I am using for this review. It is the same as the original printings from 1980 and 81, however it also adds in a new module A0: “Danger at Darkshelf Quarry” created just for this hardcover collected reprinting. So… just so you get this part right… this series of adventures has been around for over 35 years and it keeps coming back. Not just in scanned reprinted PDFs (which are very very cool when it comes to finding old modules and adventures online) but this was popular enough to get the current publisher to pay to get the collection together, add a new additional adventure and print it again in a hard cover format. And it has kept selling.
Personal history… I first found out about the A series of modules in the fourth grade. I had just moved into a new area, and the first group of friends I made were with others in my class playing the A series of modules. We had a teacher running the game. The game ran into the fifth grade and we pushed to finish the series off because sixth grade meant going to another school. We did some seriously crazy things. Like getting the teacher to agree that the wand of magic missiles we found recharged between adventures. If you want more stories about it you can ask me or Dan over at Dan on Games. Yeah he and I have known each other that long. Sorry to put that out there my friend but it is a part of my background for this one 🙂 heh. Over the years I have pulled out this collection of modules from time to time for various things. Playing them as is, or as part of a larger story, and occasionally even as inspiration for adventures based on the modules concepts but not the provided characters and monsters.
So what is it about this specific set of adventures that makes them fun, makes them cool, or why are they a favorite… right… that’s the real question isn’t it?
For me it is equal parts nostalgia, simplicity, and balance. So I have a history with the material as seen above. Simplicity is from the fact that there is only enough fluff in this series of modules to tie them all together but not to force it into any specific game world (well except for that Scourge reprint ungh… so much fluff there to tie it to a specific world just … bleh…) Balance stems from the way the adventure set was built. When things are built for tournament play you have to have a set number of encounters, traps, fights, puzzles and so on. They are also designed to be run in a specific amount of time. And to be survived by players who work together and think. Now then putting all of that together is not as easy as it may sound. I mean if you look at some adventures, some of the writers just dont seem to be able to respect the level of power, skill and abilities of the characters involved. There are lots of conversations online right now talking about problems Piazo is having along these lines with Pathfinder and for myself the best example is… well ok this is another inside joke but… ummm Mr Agents… those who know will laugh.
So how do I rate something like this overall…
Fluff – 5/5 Ok I can hear you saying “WHAT?!” Its a game adventure. How could it have enough story, background, art, and color commentary that you could even think to justify a 5 for Fluff. It’s easy really. When I get a published adventure I want to be able to add it into whatever world I am running. I like to have just enough information and adventure hooks that I can grab it, read it, and go… Oh yeah I can put that over here and just make that fit into this part of my world. I want characters with just enough back story that I can tie them into my stories and world flow. I want maps that tell me what is going on in the adventure not tie it into a world. I want art that give me more to drag my players into the story and game I am running. I dont want to have to take the time to rewrite every page of the adventure and then still have to shoe horn it into my efforts. The ONLY part of this collection that goes a little over is the new A0 module and it is so loosely over what I need that I still have to go with a 5.
Crunch – 5/5 Ok so not everyone will have a problem with this one. I base this on the new monsters and treasures that show up, and if the adventure is really balanced to fit the characters it is created for. So in this series A0 is for characters level 1 to 3, and A1 through A4 is set for characters level 4-7. So do the monsters and treasures match up? Are the villains characters that can actually be beaten by the characters intended? The answer here is a resounding yes. It is really easy to find adventures that you don’t stand a chance in hell of beating unless you either have an extra three or four characters or you some how power up well past the listed levels / power points, whatever. You don’t find that here. Ok ok I take that back you do find it in A3 BUT it is part of the plot and the ongoing story. They even offer you options in the module for if you want the characters to win it all right there or go on to A4 and face the challenges there. Yeah thats right A3 is designed to beat your players, only to have them come back in A4 and come out on top.
Mod – 5/5 Another slight surprise here for some. With me talking about using the modules in multiple worlds and stories you should see a pattern forming here. I have actually modded the modules in this book for games like Pathfinder, Rune Quest and with a little more effort that I like to admit I have modded them to work with a Call of Cthulhu game. Yeah that was a weird one. That is what happens when the Fluff is tight to the material and the Crunch is balanced. It is instantly scale-able and if you know the game engine you are changing to you can easily just grab and go.
Fun – 5/5 Yeah this is a favorite. I have had a lot of fun with this material over the years and I think that anyone willing to look at it as something they can mod and add to just about anything they are working with. And I will admit that my history with and and great memories from so far back just colors my views a little… maybe on all the categories.
Overall – 20/20 Ok ok so IS this a perfect product? Is this the best of the best ever? Nope. It is not perfect, it is not the best ever. But going by the way I score things this is worth the best score I can give. Yeah like I said under Fun my history with the product and long time love of it may color my score a little here but I dont think that is really an issue here. For myself this collection represents some of the best fun I have had gaming. In many ways and on many levels. I wont take that back or cut it down any. I really do think though that it is worth that score. For all the reasons I listed.
Well thats it for the first none core review. Let me know what you think and I will let you know if I care 🙂 heh
Keep the dice rolling folks and then give em to me… I need to see if my cross dimensional games can stake the save vs death…