This is the last review of the Slave Lord modules. After this review I will turn my attention to some of the newer modules, but I wanted to start with classics first, and these seemed appropriate to review first, as these were the first of many modules that I have bought over the past 25+ years of gaming.
This was the fourth in a four part Gencon tournament that was held around 1980. The results of this were published in the form of the modules A1-A4. The final published module included the tournament version plus some additional material to give it a bit more content than just a tournament module. I included the basic outline in my first review, so I will not repeat it here, but suffice to say that this module follows the same basic outline as the first module. The links to the first three reviews can be found here (A1), here (A2), and here (A3).
The module is a little different to the basic layout of the time, with only one dungeon level, and large outdoor island encounter area. The main maps are printed on the inner covers with a 32 page book that includes the encounters write ups, new monsters, and some pregenerated characters that were used in the tournament. The module also includes a single page with four tactical encounter maps (2 on each side). The inside front cover has the dungeon level, and the back cover has the maps of the Isle of the Slave Lords showing the lava fields from the volcano. The new monsters included were the cave fisher, magman, myconid, and the sandling; all of which would see a full write up in the later MM2 that was produced several years later. The module includes the relatively new feature of the read aloud box text. When looking at the layout of this module in relation to the others at the time, I would say that it is no better or worse than the others, and it is very similar in quality to the others in the series.
This module also has more art work than the first two of the series. The overall quality of the art is the same as the others in the series, and is very representative of the black and white artwork of the period.
The previous module ended with the characters being captured, and this module picks up with characters in the dungeon caves below the island with very little in the way of equipment. As the module states, this is designed to test the players, not the characters. The initial starting point is a small cavern with four tunnels leading out. There are three exits out of the dungeon, and the players will have to choose wisely to succeed. Once they do make it out, they face an erupting volcano, burning forests, and lava fields, in addition to finding their gear and defeating the Slave Lords.
There are a couple of features that this module provides that I am going to list out below:
1. Player challenging dungeon. Numerous challenges for the players and success really is about winning as a player, not as a character.
2. Erupting volcano along with a burning islands, adds an additional element of atmosphere.
3. Final showdown with the Slave Lords. If the DM sets this up right, this can be a very satisfying encounter for the characters
4. Conclusion for the mini AP that consists of the four modules.
Overall, this is a very interesting concept for a dungeon. In my previous review of A3, I stated that the DM needs to give the players a heads up on what’s coming, otherwise there could be a bit of a misalignment of expectations. Players tend to get emotionally attached to their characters and their stuff, so to see this get ripped away from them, could lead to trouble. Players that can set this aside and tackle this dungeon for what it is, and can find this to be a very enjoyable challenge.
Looking over the series once can easily claim that this is one of the first adventure path modules, as the four modules link very close with each other. The later module, Scourge of the Slavelords, does precisely that, and adds additional content for a better fit.
I do like this module, but I have to say that I like A1 and A2 a little better. There will be folks out there that will say that A4 is the best of the bunch as it test the mettle of the players more than the others do. The encounters in this one are carefully constructed as to provide meaningful challenges to an unarmed party. I can see how players can become frustrated with this module, as they have to be very resourceful to succeed. In that regard, this module has a very old school feel to it. I would say that it is similar in concept to the Tomb of Horrors, but not nearly as hard or as unforgiving as that one.
Rating: 3 Dragons (on a scale of 5)
As a final comment, I really do like the series. There are flaws in the limitation of the tournament designs, and the modules tend to be straight forward, as do all of the tournament modules, due to the time considerations of tournament play. I clearly understand that point of view, and there is merit in that criticism. I do agree that I do not think that these are the best series ever produced (those will be for a future review), but these are still very good, and worthy of a play through.
Overall Series Rating: 3.5 Dragons (on a scale of 5)