Launching the first wave of new reviews is 'Adventure Module BL1-2: The Ruined Hamlet/Terror in the Gloaming', an adventure for 'Basic-level' by Barrataria Games. This module is completely compatible with the '81 or '83 Red Box rules, or with Labyrinth Lord; one should be able to use it with Swords & Wizardry with no significant work at all. (But not White Box, for reasons that will become apparent...) The book is sixty pages long, including some handouts and maps.
(Going to make one key point here. When reviewing adventures, it is very difficult not to avoid spoilers. I will try, but no guarantees. Hell – if you are going to buy the adventure, you're probably not going to be playing in it but running it instead.)
This is going to be a pretty darn good review, to warn you in advance. When I ordered the book, I was expecting two separate adventures, but I did not get that. There are about five or six in here instead. The book essentially fleshes out a wilderness map, surrounding a small underground village, with fifteen locations in total described in detail.
The area is recovering from a recent period of total lawlessness, hence the large number of ruins in the area. In a bid to recover it, the local noble ruler selected one of the bandit gangs and put them in charge, giving them responsibility for the area. This means – interestingly – that all the guards and their leaders are Thieves rather than Fighters. (I would probably swap a few of the lower-level Thieves for Fighters, representing 'muscle', but I like the design decision. This means that White Box will not work as written, of course...)
The wilderness area is first. It starts with the 'Ruined Hamlet' of the title, which is a pretty effective overground dungeon area, and a nice variation from the usual 'starter dungeon' complex type. A party just starting out would struggle with this – if they did not have the ability to quickly exit the area after damaging encounters. This is followed by an extensive random encounter table, and again each possible encounter is well detailed, though again, some of them will be difficult.
I make no bones about it, and might as well say it here – this is a potentially pretty deadly adventure for the unwary. Players will need to be tactically astute, careful, and frankly lucky. This does not detract in the slightest, and appeals to my style of running games in any case.
We then have a series of keyed encounters on the map, including a series of farmstead scattered about (excellent places to rest up), fur traders, a graveyard (another excellently described 'overground dungeon' area, this time somewhat more deadly), ruined church (and another), ruined tower (another), a potential trigger to a module to be published in the future, and a small tomb.
This is one of the stellar points of the module, and one that a DM is going to need to be careful to save until the party have explored most of the rest of the area. Unwary adventurers can trigger a series of circumstances here that will potentially lay waste to most of the map, complete with a timeline of consequences triggered to other locations. This is an excellent way to conclude a short campaign. (In fact, if the PCs don't trigger it, an NPC should – an option not noted in the module. There are plenty of candidates among the bandits and brigands.)
Then we get to the 'Gold Hill Trading Post', which is unusually an underground series of chambers, with four different entrances to different parts of the complex. One takes you to the barracks, occupied by the new guards of the area, then next takes you to an inn, complete with rumour table. (And I like the fact that the higher your Charisma, the more likely you are to hear a 'true rumour'.) Then a smithy, which will be of great importance to most adventurers, and the trading post itself – which conceals a great secret. (Spoiler: Hidden thieves' guild!) There is a fifth chamber designed for important visitors (potentially the PCs), and a sixth that is walled off – a traditional dungeon complex.
The best thing about this section is that it is all described as if the players are exploring a dungeon. Which in a sense, of course, they are. Not only does this make it extremely straightforward for a DM to run a new party through this module, but it also opens up the intriguing possibility of the party playing a group of monsters, on the rampage through this settlement!
The adventure continues with a small selection of new monsters, spells and magical items, which are frankly nothing to write home about – except that they are from other sources, and have been included because they are mentioned in the article. Only one page – good call. (One note here – this module does not use the new material from the Companion Expansion. Again, I like this, as it means that you do not need two products to play. It would be easy enough to add this material in.)
What do I like about this adventure? It is logically laid out for someone running it, the descriptions are concise and clear, and all the NPCs, creatures, etc, are statted out correctly. You get a real feeling for the setting that the adventure is set in, without it being obtrusive, and this is applied consistently throughout the book. It is bursting with adventures; you could quite easily run a four-six session campaign with just the material in this book, taking a party from starting to the brink of third level. More to the point: this feels real. The setting has a distinctive but not distracting flavour.
What don't I like? Not much. My one niggle is the old 'Keep on the Borderlands' problem – none of the NPCs have any darn names! A key piece of preparation would be to list out all the NPCs, and there are quite a few of them, and give them names in advance. The title is a little confusing and complicated – I would have probably stuck with 'Module BL1: Terror in the Gloaming'. OK, you know I'm reaching when I am niggling about the title.
If you want an excellent adventure to start a new campaign that your players will remember, buy this book. If you want a grab-bag of wilderness locations to populate a campaign map, buy this book. They've beat Keep on the Borderlands at their own games. I can't wait to see what Barrataria Games does next.
Buy at Lulu