28 July 2012

Review of N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God

WARNING: This review contains spoilers. The module is thirty years old, so I imagine the word has already gotten out about most of what I am about to write about.

Sometime between 1982 and 1984, I bought this fine module written by Douglas Niles. From notes in my copy, I can see that I used the NPCs listed in the back for other adventures. However, I never ran my party through it.

N1 is explicitly designed to be used for a game involving 4-7 novice adventures and a DM. The is a lot of great pulp action and tropes in this stuffed module: a troubled town fearful of strangers, an evil cult with deranged clerics, a mad hermit and a showdown in the moors.

The play consists of these bits: exploration of the Orlane village and the interrogation of its inhabitants, followed by a fairly contained wilderness exploration that concludes in an assault on the fortified lair of a very powerful, spell-wielding naga.

An interesting mechanism found in this module is that the players may be kidnapped at some point. Frankly, I don't think I could pull this off with my players. There isn't much chance of escape or rescue, so this seems like a total party kill. Perhaps readers will chime in with different experiences. However, the mechanism of kidnapping NPCs is will established and serves as a great plot mover.

In contrast to T1, the town of Orlane has many "feint" encounters that should be straight forward to DM and which are fun for the players. Hey, who doesn't like to bash troglodytes?

The final showdown with the Naga Explicatica Defilus (a faux latin name that perhaps might mean "the cause of filth") seems crazy hard for even 7 well-armed first level PCs. She is a 9 HD creature with serious fire power. Of course, the module hopes that the PCs befriend the mad hermit Ramne, a level seven mage who should provide enough cover for the PCs to contribute something to the demise of this Big Bad. Niles uses the old saw of rumors to set up player expectations in Orlane, which may be hokey, but it works.

The NPCs are particularly well drawn and engaging. I enjoy the bad crazy of Ambramo who scrawls on his bed room walls "snake mother" and "a crocodile has many teeth." Now that's what I call "pulp atmosphere."

This module has a fine selection of monsters from both the Monster Manual and Fiend Folio. The monsters are well integrated for me, but others might find the collection of beasties in the Naga's lair a little forced.

All told, I really like this module. It balances "community theatre" RPG stuff with solid combat situations. The final assault should prove challenging even for parties with some third level PCs. The motivations of the villagers is clear and easy for a DM to extrapolate.

Is it a little "railroady"? Perhaps. The party is mostly dumped on Orlane and expected to lend a hand. I am OK with this, but I know others want a more compelling backstory. The final showdown with the Naga is the most problematic for me. If the PCs do not have Ramne with them, this fight is going to be really short. However, if they win, they win big. The treasure is a small fortune and includes the excellent bag of holding, a boat load of spells and a few rings.