Splinters of Faith I – V

 Splinters of Faith I – It started with a Chicken…

 

The first adventure of the Splinters of Faith-adventure series is 20 pages long,  1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of adventure.

 

This being an adventure review, it contains SPOILERS. Even worse, since it (and I) discuss the metaplot, there are MASSIVE SPOILERS for the whole series.

 

Players should really skip to the conclusion of the review.

 

Still here?

All right! Once upon a time, a priest-king named Akruel Rathamon, a vile man of unrivaled power subjugated all the lands under his tyrannical rule in the name of a deity that we now know as Orcus and said priest-king was winning the war, especially after turning himself into a super-powered version of a vampire with lich-like immortality. To stop the tyrant, an artifact was crafted, the Scepter of Faiths. Said scepter was jammed into the tyrant’s heart – but it didn’t kill him – unbeknownst to the forces of good, his true life-force was sheltered elsewhere and thus his empire and minions faded to distant memory, while a mausoleum was built over his motionless, artifact-staked body. Over the years, a natural hill has formed over the crypt and all the once powerful wards have slowly deteriorated…

 

Deteriorated is also what should be best used to describe the village of Lessef – 30 houses (more shacks, really) form a dilapidated, poor community that borders on being a ghost town. Even the impromptu Inn is only a side-business run by the local priest and almost all youth seems to have (justifiably) fled this place. Looming over the hamlet, a church called aptly Poverty’s Brethel, situated on a large hill, remains standing. The town is aptly presented in its state of dilapidation and the town has a problem – a rather smart fox has been killing the settlement’s chickens, threatening the little livelihood the place still has left. Of course, the culprit is not a fox, but rather a group of thugs guarding a badly hidden excavation site on the other side of the looming hill. Hired by a necromancer who has managed to revive the priest-king, they await a return of entities who have already left via magic. Once the PCs have defeated the thugs, they’ll have to explore the decayed tomb, battle its ghoulish inhabitants and find both the shattered scepter of faiths and cryptic instructions on how to recreate it to stop Akruel once and for all. It should also be noted that some side-quest-style hooks that entwine this adventure with other installments of the series are included.

 

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read two-column standard and the b/w-artwork and maps rock. The pdf unfortunately has no bookmarks. Oh boy, on the one hand I enjoyed this adventure, on the other hand, I did not. Let me elaborate: This is a sandbox that is not a sandbox – the village is depicted in a compelling way that hearkens back to classic fantasy, where a looming threat of human extinction was present, however, essentially we get the village as a kind of gazetteer. After the gazetteer, some rudimentary information on the thugs is provided and then there’s the dungeon. The adventure does not cover the PCs setting traps for the “foxes” (no map of the chicken stalls etc.) and assumes the PCs find the perpetrators etc. The dungeon is, apart from the foreshadowing elements, just, I’m sorry to say, boring. The maps are not depicted on pages of their own or in large, making handing them out to the players harder than it should be. Additionally, we don’t get player-friendly maps of the village, temple or dungeon. And then there’s the amount of content: 13 pages is just not enough for 5 bucks – especially when taking into account that the background story further diminishes the page-count of the overall module. I really liked the atmosphere transported by this module and thus it pains me to do it, but for the price, I don’t consider this module a good investment. It’s necessary for the series, though. Thus, If you’re planning to run the arc, this is 3 stars for you. For those of you undecided/looking for a nice introduction, I can’t recommend this – for you, this module is 2.5 stars, rounded down to 2 for the purpose of this platform.

 

 Splinters of Faith II – Burning Desires

 

The second installment of Splinters of Faith is 21 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC and 1 page SRD, leaving 17 pages of content – quite a bit more than in installment number 1, so let’s check it out!

 

This being an adventure review, it contains SPOILERS. Potential players might want to jump to the conclusion.

 

Still here? All righty! After acquiring the shattered scepter of faiths, the PCs have ventured to a Dwarven settlement named Anvil Plunge to reforge the mundane parts of the scepter in the blessed forge. Once again, we are introduced to an aptly-written village, this time a dwarven frontier-town loosely reminiscent of a wheel in layout, including 4 connected temples in the middle of the village. Once again, the settlement feels very much alive and unique and has its own feeling of fragility – after all, the village has recently lost the second of its holy relics (the first being an adventure-spanning side-quest) and the PCs will have to investigate the theft: While the theft per se is interesting, it’s depiction in the adventure is lackluster at best, amounting to a perception check and some knowledge: The perpetrator is a druid, wildshaped, got through some drainage and stole the artifact (an everburning piece of coal) from the furnace while protected from flames. The adventure could have easily been made more exciting with a better investigation.

 

The thief, a half-orc cleric, hides in the sin-mire and this is where the adventure begins to shine, or could begin to shine: The PCs use a raft and glide through a mapped mire to find the entrance to the enemy’s lair. While the map is cool, no map for the players is provided, thus  showing them that several islands contains the same creatures – a blank hex-map of the mire as a handout would have made this section plain awesome. Oh well, after exploring the mire (probably thanks to a DM’s hand-drawn version of the map), the PCs have to delve into partially submerged giant crayfish tunnels (a neat dungeon with over-and underwater sections), challenge the druid and return the coal to have the Scepter of Faiths reforged.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though one location is missing from the wilderness map. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard and the artworks and map-qualities are high. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a downer. This adventure provides a neat, unique village, a short investigation (that, as presented, does not deserve the name, but can easily be expanded) and a truly iconic wilderness and dungeon and this is where one of my two main gripes with this installment lies: The wilderness map. To run a free-form wilderness exploration, a DM NEEDS a map without letters denoting the hotspots and the adventure fails to provide one. The other gripe I have with this installment (and the whole series in general) is that no transition from installment I to II is provided – no wilderness, no random encounters, nothing! And the two villages are not exactly adjacent! Apart from that, this adventure provides more content, a better mood and a more iconic location to adventure in than part I, so my final rating will be 3 stars – if you’re willing to work, this might even be 4 stars for you.

 

Splinters of Faith III – Culvert Operations

 

The 3rd installment of the Splinters of Faith-series is 32 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving 26 pages of content, once again more than in the predecessor.

 

This being an adventure-review, the following contains massive SPOILERS. Players might wish to jump to the conclusion!

 

Still here? Righty right! After forging the scepter of faiths anew, the PCs have to venture to Bargasport to gain the favor of the lady luck’s high priestess for the weapon – only, the faith has changed. Once a thriving port, Bargasport now is a den of sin and vice, controlled in equal parts by a family without scruples and the roguish faith of lady luck, who once left the town to its devices, burying it beneath an volcanic eruption and thus volcanic sludge – the city now known as Bargasport is built atop the original one and the temple and its adherents still are underground. The PCs will have to navigate the city, venture into the sewers and finally find the temple. The gazetteer-section of this very exciting town remains unfortunately lacking detailed on the above-ground sections of the city, though, so once again some rather hefty expansion on parts of the DM is in order. Once the PCs have found the temple, though, the adventure kicks into full gear:

 

Rumors of undead amassing in the sewers have disquieted the high priestess and she wants, whoever might be responsible, stopped. What follows is a truly exciting exploration of sewers that fill with water due to the proximity to the ocean, tidal tensions, deadly foes and some rather neat maps, the latter of which unfortunately coming without player-friendly versions. The sheer iconic quality of the sewers (which I’d usually hate) is created by the fact that they are haphazard pipes and tubes connected to buildings that have been submerged by the pyroclastic flows of old and now stand at angles etc. – cool set-up, very good execution.

 

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to the 2-column standard and the b/w-artworks are nice. We get more content than in the predecessors, but still no bookmarks. This adventure is superior in its iconic settlement and dungeon to the first two parts and surpasses the second chapter (Burning Desires) via the fact that a player-friendly map is not absolutely necessary (and omitted, just like in “Burning Desires”). I still would have loved player-friendly maps in this as well, but their lack does not impede the adventure as much. Not all is well, however: The city Bargasport is extremely iconic and cool and quite frankly, feels a bit sketchy – a couple of pages might suffice for a village, but not for a full-blown town. The sections above ground remain rather amorphous and  the unique properties of the sub-terranean areas (with angled buildings connected by pipes) could have been played up much, much more – the idea is great, I just don’t get why only so few things have been done with it – almost no balancing and climbing, no in-dungeon escaping from the rising tide (e.g. up a subterranean and soon also submerged tower) – it is just a terrible bummer to see such potential squandered – cut one or two of the standard run-of-the-mill encounters, replace them with challenges like that and there you – I would have rated this one much, much higher. We also still don’t get any kind of wilderness transition to the town, which constitutes a minor bummer for me as well. In the end, this one feels better than the first two installments, but my aforementioned gripes prevent me from rating this higher than 3.5 stars, which will be my final verdict for the module. For the purpose of this platform, I’ll round down.


Splinters of Faith IV – For Love of Chaos

 

This installment of the “Splinters of Faith”-series is 24 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement and 1 page SRD, leaving 19 pages for the ventures to the gardens of Iseleine.

 

This being an adventure review, the following contains SPOILERS, so potential players might want to skip to the conclusion.

 

Calamity has befallen the pacifistic paradise the followers of Iseleine have crafted for themselves in the midst of the lush Kajaani forest – In the midst of the woods, a huge, forested chasm looms and within, a vast pillar containing paradise-like gardens was erected ages ago – on it, the strange, non-violent followers of Iseleine wallow in their passivity, beauty and talk to plants while slowly losing their connection with normal life. The disturbing tranquility of this place of solace has been disturbed by the high-priestess murdering her husband, flinging herself from the column into the gardens below and any search troops sent have not returned. Unfortunately, the priestess also had the sacred oil needed for the Scepter of Faiths on her.

 

This adventure is cool, to be exact, my favorite among the Splinters of Faith series so far and that due to a neat idea: Obvious weapons, component pouches etc. may not be taken into the lush, tranquil gardens. Even worse, the followers and faith of Iseleine, with their crystalline sphere atop the temple that sprinkles and throws rainbows across the valley are inherently CREEPY. The perhaps best red herring I’ve read in quite a while, for the followers are truly naive pacifists – their high-priestess was killed and replaced by a succubus in disguise, who not only impersonated her, but also committed the murder. What starts as an exploration of the creepy temple swiftly turns into a search-mission in the lower gardens, where strike-squads of Derro currently undermine the column to send it crashing down, taking the eden-like gardens with it. It’s up to the PCs to stop the mad dwarves and their allies while not (openly) violating the tenets of Iseleine.

 

 

Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to the 2-column standard and the b/w-artworks/maps etc. rock. The exploration of the lower gardens should be tense, but once again no player-friendly map is presented, only one for the DM with all the hotspots, making the exploration quintessentially dependent on the DM’s willingness to draw up his own map, which is a downer. The pdf comes with no bookmarks, another no-go. This is by far the most iconic of the temples presented until now and makes for a STELLAR adventuring location. While the mystery plot is rather flat, it could be expanded easily to feature a more compelling story-line. The other gripe I have that mars an otherwise stellar writing is that, once again, we get no transition – no random encounters, no information on terrain, nothing for the journey between part 3 and 4, in spite of the continent map included in each installment. While I did really love this adventure, I also feel that aforementioned problems undermine its usability, thus making it impossible for me to rate it the full 5 stars. Instead, I’ll settle for a hearty recommendation and 4 stars. If you want to check only one of the first 4 adventures out, get this one.

 

 Splinters of Faith V –  Eclipse of the Hearth

 

The fifth installment of the “Splinters of Faith”-series is 40 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving a whopping 36 pages of content, so let’s check it out!

 

This being an adventure review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players might wish to jump to the conclusion. Still here? All right!

After the last adventure delivered perhaps one of the most iconic temples I’ve ever read about in a module, this installment will have a tough standing – This time, we’ll visit the desert and Ardten’s Ziggurat. In contrast to other installments of the “Splinters of Faith”-series, this one depicts 2 versions of the same temple: The first section is devoted to a description of Ardten’s temple at its prime, while the adventure reflects the conquered and defiled status-quo hundreds of years later.

 

Ardten’s temple is set in the Kanderi desert, a desolate wasteland and thus the first part of the adventure is devoted to exploration of the desert and actually finding the temple. This part is accompanied by a map that suffers from the same problem as all the installments of the series with extensive wilderness exploration – no map for PCs (with hexes, squares, whatever) is provided, necessitating drawing work on part of the DM and making this section harder to run than it ought to be. This is especially a pity as Seraph, the temple-ziggurat of Ardten and its surroundings e.g. feature challenges like minotaur-vampires.  The aspect that this part of the saga takes place in the desert, is, apart from minor heat-inconveniences (see heat dangers…) not really utilized – some unique hazards or complications would have made the wilderness-section truly astounding. After being rather disappointed on a high level by the desert, I started reading yet another Ziggurat/Pyramid in the desert and got ready to yawn.

 

My expectations were utterly subverted. From a dirty crystalline sphere to catch and project light into the heart of the temple to the forces that have taken it (Gnolls, Flinds and Seth-creatures), their individual skills and the traps, this is one stellar dungeon. Seriously, I’ve seldom seen such an aptly-presented complex in this few pages. Care for an example? There are corridors, where the walls are plastered with writhing snakes (really snake zombies) that have been nailed to the walls! Better yet: This serves a purpose! There is also a huge flesh-hewn wall of eyes and among the creatures left there, we get e.g. a golem with a poison-snake arm and a constrictor-tail arm! Acting smart provides benefits for the PCs in this crawl and they might even kill the new monster, a CR 7 Kamarupa-undead without a battle if they act clever. (This is good, as the creature can harass them during the exploration and has some rather deadly tricks up its sleeve…)  Of all the temples in the series, this has been my favorite by far, with only one minor gripe on my side. Why are there no haunts/temporal anomalies? The temple is depicted in its former glory and adding haunts/visions/anomalies might drive home the extent of corruption, provide hints to the PCs, blind them to certain dangers etc. this adventure practically screams: Use this ploy and nothing of the like happens. A pity, as the dungeon could have become my undisputed favorite in the line.

 

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. layout adheres to the 2-column standard and thankfully, this installment has bookmarks – great addition. The maps and b/w-artworks are neat, but I’m sorely missing a player’s map for the wilderness-section. This adventure, again, features no transition from the last, which starts to get a bit awkward – in order to reach the desert, the PCs have to cross a jungle, a mountain-range (featuring the temple of the installment 7…) and a range of desert. The information on the ancient temple of Ardten, while nice, is essentially useless for running the installment, as no haunts/temporal anomalies etc. are used.  This does not sound good, I know. The adventure is essentially a prime candidate, even more so than its predecessors, for wasted potential: Gary Schotter and Jeff Harkness are stellar writers – their temples are cool, their fluff-text rocks – but the campaign as a whole feels somewhat disjointed, which becomes doubly apparent when reading the STELLAR dungeon. I can’t say this enough – the dungeon ROCKS. HARD. But where are the haunts? The anomalies? The visions? The icing on the cake is simply missing. Add the wilderness with its problems, the lack of spatial in-game connections, no player’s maps  etc. make it very hard for me to unanimously recommend this installment, in spite of all the merits the pdf has to offer. My final verdict will thus be 3.5 stars, round up for the dungeon, round down if you want to use the good temple in the campaign. I personally round up to 4.

All right, see you soon when I take a look at the final 5 installments! It should be noted that each of tehse modules is available for Pathfinder as well as for Swords and Wizardry.

Thanks for reading my ramblings,

Endzeitgeist out. 

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About Endzeitgeist

Reviewer without a cause