Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Secret of Smuggler's Cove

Goodman Games is an interesting company. It was one of the earlier d20 companies around, and put out Broncosaurus Rex, a game of Cowboys and Dinosaurs set in the far future (not to be confused with Discosaurus Rex, a game about Lounge Lizards). Anyway, while being a fairly interesting product (and pretty well done), I'm not sure how well it sold, so I think they shifted gears into producing other, more generic d20 products. Including a line of old school modules called "Dungeon Crawl Classics".

Necromancer Games has the motto "3rd Edition Rules, 1st Edition Feel", trying to imply their books are like the old classic AD&D ones, but as many have noted, that's not really true. While I have most of their modules, the feel is far more modern, closer to 2nd edition. Their maps tend to be computer generated, and the art is generally done by Brian LeBlanc. While he is probably my favorite artist d20 around, the early TSR modules tended to have line drawings. His stuff is a bit stylishish, but very realistic looking. (Though one thing he generally does, is have the same "party" of characters in each illustration, like they were going through the module themselves. Jim Holloway used to do that in the old TSR modules he illustrated)

A bit closer to the "1st Edition Feel" are the two modules from Ed Cha and Open World Press. These even copy the old style cover, though they are perfect bound. However, while having some of the feel, they are also very modern in outlook, focusing a lot more on role-playing and such. Again, very good, but not quite the classic feel. For example, in Oester, you are given fairly detailed individual backgrounds/past histories and personalities on a band of thugs that ambushes the party.

This line of modules, do greatly resemble the old modules of old. At first glance, the cover is almost identical to the design of the old TSR ones. It's not exact, the art is a bit smaller, and there's a Goodman Games logo instead of the TSR one, but it's very very close.

Upon opening the cover, the similarities continue. The old modules would have the maps on the interior of the cover, white on blue. This has the same thing, looking very very similar, except the maps lack a key (which can be a bit confusing). The only real different is that the paper in this is much thinner. The old modules used fairly heavy stock. The paper in this is easily seen through.

Also, many of the old modules had pregenerated characters. This does not. Not all of them did, but that would have been a fun addition, I think.

Getting on with it...

"The Secret of Smuggler's Cove" is perhaps not the most original module in terms of basic theme, but is fairly original in how it puts those themes together.

Basically, the PCs are hired to investigate a missing lighthouse keeper. The townsfolk are afraid to do it themselves, because they think it's haunted.

The upshot of it is, yes, it is haunted, but that's not the dangerous part. As you might guess from the title, somehow smugglers are involved.

While it is a Dungeon Crawl, but it's not one big dungeon (or medium sized), but basically 5 small-ish ones. The lighthouse itself, a deserted manor, the dungeon below said manor, the Smuggler's Caves, and the caves of some fish-people.

It's all fairly logically done. And while I don't want to spoil it ( a little hint - "The Fog" meets the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh), the plot actually makes sense.

The module is very well written and presented. You get a description of each room (which you could read to players), what's in the room itself, and any relevent information on tactics the monsters would use, or the DCs that the PCs might have to roll against, for traps or spotting things and such.

I also liked how the author gave class levels to many of the monsters/opponents.

Obviously, as a "Dungeon Crawl", it's a bit lacking when it comes to NPCs that aren't meant to be killed, but there is a town (Fair Haven) detailed briefly (just a few shops and such) with a few friendly NPCs. And there are a couple prisoners in the dungeons themselves which may or may not be friendly in the long run, much like the old classic modules had NPCs that you weren't completely sure of.

The layout is pretty straight forward.

The art is all retro in style, and all pretty good. There are 9 pieces of art in 36 pages (3 pages of maps and 1 page for the OGL round out the book), which seems to be about the standard ratio (1:4), but all the pieces except on are fairly small. There is also no coherence between the pictures, since they were done by 3 different artists.

It's really hard to find anything wrong with the module. The only real concern I have have is over one magic item/encounter (and this isn't really a spoiler, because you can see an illustration of it on the product page). Apparently (though this isn't clearly stated, so I'm not sure), one of the items in the dungeon underneath the manor is an "Iron Flask", complete with inhabitant. This is meant to be something of a trap. However, the "Iron Flask" is also one of the most expensive magical items around, weighing in at 170,000 gp. Though actually, I've never understood if the Iron Flask forced the critter back into the bottle at the end of the hour, thus being re-usable (getting an hour of service from the critter each day), or just worked once, then the critter took off. If it's the latter, I don't see why the thing is so desireable. (The original DMG didn't list a price, but pretty much contains the same exact text).

Still, while it's very good, it's not amazing. It's a very journeyman-like effort - the pieces all fit together, it's plausible, it's complete, but it's not especially memorable. Not that this is a bad thing, very few of the old TSR modules were like that, but enough so that I only give it a B+, not an A.

On the plus side, you could also probably adapt it to a Call of Cthulhu adventure. Just change the fish-people to Deep Ones.