Dave Arneson's Blackmoor: The Redwood Scar (almost final)
Dave Arneson's Blackmoor:
The Redwood Scar
The Redwood Scar is an adventure module for Dave Arneson's Blackmoor, indeed, the first module published for that setting in something like 20 years (or so the cover says). Blackmoor, as you may or may not know, was the first fantasy setting for a RPG, developed by the co-creator of D&D, Dave Arneson, while he was creating D&D (or perhaps a bit before that). While it was the first, it's had something of an odd history as a published setting.
As far as I know, it was first mentioned in the D&D supplement "Blackmoor" (which was mostly rules and such, but I think had a thing about the "Temple of the Frog). Then due to the Gygax/Arneson falling out, Blackmoor was published by the Judges Guild as the "First Fantasy Campaign". This was not quite a setting as we know it today, there was map of the area, but the book was largely a compilation of various facts and data about Blackmoor. Famous NPCs. Wars. Maps of various dungeons. Etc.
Then, after Gary Gygax had a falling out with TSR in the mid 80s, Blackmoor was brought back into D&D (aka, Basic Dungeons and Dragons), literally retrofitted into the "Known World" (which would later be called "Mystara), basically set in the past (about 3-4000 years before the various D&D modules, like Isle of Dread or Castle Amber, if I remember correctly).
There were 4 modules for Blackmoor for Mystara. These were sort of weird, as most of them involved time travel and in some cases, high technology (most notably the Temple of the Frog and the City of the Gods).
Things were pretty dormant until the advent of D&D 3e, when it was brought back by Zeitgeist Games and published in 2004 (via Goodman Games, famous for the Dungeon Crawl Classics series of modules) pretty much for the first time as a coherent, fully fleshed out and complete setting for d20.
Or at least, I think that's how things are. I really don't know much about Blackmoor first hand, I am really just a big Mystara fan, and so learned about Blackmoor as part of that. In fact, I don't own any of the Blackmoor books, not even the newest one, though I did play through one of the 80s D&D adventures, the Temple of the Frog one, and flipped through the Judge's Guild version (though that was 20 years ago, so I don't remember much).
The Redwood Scar
While most people probably think Blackmoor adventures are weird, full of frogs, lasers and hard to leave inns, this adventure, the Redwood Scar, is actually quite normal. It could be used in any D&D setting pretty much as is, just with some name changes. Which is a good thing for me, since as mentioned, I don't own the new Blackmoor (though I am on the email list for it), and the only Blackmoor I am really familiar with is the Mystara one.
The adventure itself is perhaps not the most original in terms of plot (reminds me of a lot of survival horror video games), but is an excellent implementation of the plot, and a good module, period. And is generally my favorite sort of adventure (one based around a small town with a problem).
Basically, the PCs stumble across a village that is suffering from some sort of magical blight or plague. Obviously, they must find the source of the blight and save the village. But there are some added complications (or side quests).
The first part of the adventure really consists of the PCs going around the village and trying to figure out just what is going on. This is done by interacting with various NPCs.
While the village is nowhere near as detailed as the "Hamlet of Thumble", for the most part, it's detailed pretty well. The NPCs that are detailed are given very distinct and memorable personalities.
In fact, the first time I read this module, I actually dreamt about the village that night. I usually read something (often a gaming book I plan on reviewing) before I go to sleep, but I've never had something like this happen before. Sometimes when I read a Call of Cthulhu book I'll have a horror-tinged dream (or occasionally about this girl I knew in college that had the "Innsmouth Look" and used to scare me because she also had this habit of groping me. Which probably would have been enjoyable if I weren't an HPL fan), but never actually visiting a fictional place like that. Both a bit weird and fascinating at the same time
Anyway, once the PCs get the basic gist of what's going on, they basically have to simply find the source of the blight and destroy it. This essentially involves a great deal of wilderness exploration. There's a good mix of random encounters, keyed encounters, and timed encounters.
As mentioned, there are a number of side quests. These can be done parallel to the main adventure (ideally), or after that is done (with some minimal changes). The first is almost a "haunted house" sort of scenario. There are strange noises coming from an abandoned tavern.
Secondly, the PCs must retrieve an evil tome (not quite Necronomicon-ish, but on par with David Hasselhoff's autobiography) from it's hiding place in an evil hedge maze. If your players hate mazes, they probably won't like this, but it's not too heinous. There is a puzzle involved in this, too, but not too difficult of one.
It's hard for me to guess the length of the module - it seems like it could be fairly short, if you have smart players that figure things out quickly or ones that want to rush into things. On the other hand, they could spend a lot of time talking with the NPCs in town. I would guess about 3-4 playing sessions. (One for the haunted house, one for the village, and one or two for the woods/maze/final showdown)
The book itself...
Physically, it's a fairly impressive book. At first glance, I thought it was bigger than its 64 pages, because the paper used is very heavy stock.
It has a lot of artwork, around 20 pieces in 64 pages, which is a pretty good ratio. Also very interesting is that there is a hedge maze illustration, and it actually is the hedge maze. That is, the maze plan in the artwork is the same as that of the map.
All the artwork is very good, some of it is excellent. You can view some of the pieces online on the company's home page.
I especially love the picture of the town of Cicatri Down itself (the one in the top right of the gallery).
The only real downside, at least for me, is that while all the maps are clear, some are obviously generated with Campaign Cartographer 2, which isn't terrible, but are very computer-ish looking. I've never understood why that program apparently only has 1 sprite (or whatever) for each sized house. Why not several dozens for each house size, so a village doesn't look like it's comprised of identical houses? (I also think having someone just trace over the map would still look good and get rid of the computer generated look)
A less artistic criticism is that some of the keys to the maps are a little off, I think. The map of the area seems to be missing one label, and I think they are mislabeled in one instance. Though because the cartographer happened to use CC2 you can tell which is supposed to be what, because the areas have the same shape on the big map as on the large scale map, just the size is changed. (That's the only nice thing about CC2, it scales up or down, being vector based, like Oprah Winfrey).
Also, the scale for the town map is off. I hope so, anyway, otherwise most houses are 10 feet by 10 feet. Which is pretty much the size of my bedroom, which is annoyingly small. For an actual house, it would be like that Geico commercial...(the one about the really small house, not the one with the Gecko doing the robot).
The layout of the module is pretty nice. It's divided up into sections, one for the town, one for the wilderness, with stats for the major NPCs and monsters in the back, but for the lesser ones in the text itself. That's generally the best way to do it in an adventure.
Furthermore, there are charts of all the encounters, giving you information on where they are in the book, where the encounter happens, the type of encounter. This is very useful.
Pretty much all of the combat encounters in the book are with new monsters, though many of them are created by taking normal animals and applying a template to them. There's also a few new minor spells and a couple minor magic items.
It's a well crafted adventure, with memorable NPCs and rather gruesome major villain (look closely at the cover art to see what I mean. Ick). There are some minor problems with the maps, and you could probably find a few nitpicks, but I enjoyed it a lot, and plan on running it as soon as I can. A-
As mentioned, while nominally set in Blackmoor, it can be used pretty much anywhere with only changing the names of the type of elves, so if you are in the need for a module, it's worth picking up. It's also a pretty good advertisement for the Blackmoor book itself. Because while it doesn't directly reference that book much, it does have a lot of minor things from it when are sort of tantalizing.
While it says it's for levels 2-4, I suspect that level 4 is probably the real baseline. There are several encounters which are EL5 or 6, which in my experience, are generally too much for 2nd level characters, and a few monsters that have a fairly high hardness, which will probably be tricky for really low characters to get past.
Also, I don't know if this is true for Blackmoor in general, but the names of the NPCs in the book are really good. On the one hand, quite alien, they don't seem like names from Earth or slightly goofy Star Wars style names. But on the other, they do seem like actual names, not made up gibberish.