Sunday, January 18, 2009

Review: Vault of Larin Karr



Background

In my opinion, this is one of the gems of the early days of 3rd edition. The period between 2000-2004, was perhaps the high point of Necromancer Games, and their catch phrase, “3rd edition rules, 1st edition feel.” This was the period immediately following the 3rd edition roll out, and Necromancer was one of the first 3rd party publishers to publish material under the D20 guidelines. During that time period, they produced a number of excellent products, and they won a number of Ennies with them. One such product from this era was Vault of Larin Karr, which is still one of my favorite modules.

Layout

This is a rather large module, coming in at 112 pages. The module starts with an introduction that sets the stage for the module. This is then followed by an extensive description of the three villages and the accompanying encounter areas in the town, which takes up the first 29 pages. The next 30 pages outline the wilderness areas, of which there are 13 major encounter areas. The following 40 pages detail the Underdark, which includes the fabled Vault of Larin Karr. The final 11 pages are appendix materials, which include one new monster (Juju zombie), wandering monster details, and sample Underdark tactical maps.

The general layout is ok. Structure and sequencing is sound, however I would have liked to have seen a table of contents to help provide clarity around the numerous encounter areas of this adventure. There are quite a few areas given the three towns, wilderness and Underdark areas, that I think a table of contents with a similar chart at the beginning of each chapter would have been extremely helpful.

Artwork

This module features a number of black and white pieces by Brian LeBlanc that I would describe as pencil or charcoal art. While the old school art of 1st edition was also black and white, that art had a finished look that was almost cartoonish in nature, but had a sense of fantastic realism. The art in this module has rougher look to it, and I would not call it cartoonish. It is a bit different than the art from 1st edition. The look and feel of the art is very consistent throughout the book. There are several pieces which I think are very nicely done, and there are a couple pieces that could probably use some additional work.

Summary

This is an open ended mini-campaign setting which allows for sandbox play through the valley and below it. There are four basic plot lines that can be used and expanded upon:

1. The hobgoblin and orc menace
2. The embittered elves
3. The coming of the dragon
4. The vault of Larin Karr

The characters arrive in the valley, and through their interactions with the towns folks can choose to chase down any number of leads and work there way through these plot lines, or just conduct random exploration of the area.

Key features

There are several features of this module that I have listed below:

1. A sandbox environment with numerous areas to explore
2. A fully mapped out valley with three villages that contain significant detail
3. Wilderness areas with a number of predefined encounters along with a number of wandering monster charts.
4. A fully connected dungeon area that exists below the valley

Final notes

In my opinion, this is the classic sandbox campaign. There is enough fleshed out to keep the characters busy for a number of sessions, and there is various plot lines with which a GM can build a deeper experience. The valley is big enough that the GM can easily create additional content, and add his own touch to the adventure, and it is small enough that the GM does not have to spend months planning on how to run it. It also has something for everyone, in terms adventuring terrain.

Now the adventure is not without flaws. The text is riddled with clich├ęs, bad puns and terrible names. Unfortunately, this is common in D&D adventures and I can point to numerous examples of this in other adventure modules. I wish the developers spent more time with the author to clean up these minor issues and add a bit of organization through the use of tables of contents. As I have note above, the structure is sound, however a bit of up front cataloging of topics would have been greatly appreciated.

On of the themes of this adventure is the interconnectedness of the valley. The Underdark serves as an underground connection point for all the major surface areas. Adventurers could conduct most of their exploring underground and cover all the encounters both above and below. I think this is an interesting feature that is worthy of note.

As a final note on the write up, one of the overall strengths of this module is its flexibility in terms of customization. Even though there is good detail included in the write up of the three villages, Pembrose, Bostwick, and Twain, there is still enough room to add additional NPC’s to add to the adventure. I have heard some folks say that they felt that the NPC’s were a bit flat, and I believe that the intrepid GM is more than capable of adding depth to the characters. The adventure also has a number of orc tribes, that I think just demand additional detail from the GM. I mention this as there are a number of WotC and 3rd party supplements that add numerous different types of orcs, and I think that by adding this flavor to the orc tribes, it puts a bit more polish into the execution. Continuing on with possibilities for this adventure, I added additional content to the dragon encounter with the addition of a band of kobolds that have allied themselves with the dragon. It is touches like this that are easy, and illustrate the adventure’s flexibility that I find enchanting about this module.

Overall, I still give this adventure a big thumbs up.

Rating: 4 Dragons (on a scale of 5)

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