The Sword of Roele review- crappy adventure, good dungeon pt 1

I couldn’t find any review of this adventure so maybe I’ll fill a tiny little niche with this, I dunno…

The Sword of Roele, Wolfgang Baur, 1996

This is probably one of the most obscure adventure of 2E D&D. It was written for Birthright, a fantasy setting heavily inspired by Tolkien’s Middle-Earth (with a dose of Highlander soul-stealing in the mix) and purportedly the least popular of the many settings there was at the time. Birthright had a unique focus on domain play; a prerequisite was that at least one player would play as a ruler, with the characters sharing responsabilities of governing, dealing with the many problems arising on their lands and perhaps going to war with neighboring territories. The mechanistic part of the domain play was a bit of a mess but fascinating at the same time, or at least it was for teenager me.

The Birthright line had many books but most of them were player-facing domain splatbooks, with only a handful of adventures ever made. The sword of Roele is one of those few.

And boy if it’s a weird one…

Adventure Intro:

  • The Chimera, a powerful immortal being, tries to coerce the player characters, mostly with thin-veiled threats or open war if needed, and promises of riches too, in helping to defeat her most bothersome ennemies, the Three Brothers, audacious mages that are continually encroaching on her territory and sources of magic
  • The Three Brothers also try to enlist the player characters with the appeal of finding the eponymous Sword of Roele, an ancient and prestigious sword (more symbolic than powerful) before the Chimera does (note that the Chimera isn’t reaaly interested in the sword, it’s just a way to entice the player characters). It’s all a lie, the Sword of Roele is in fact kept far away in one of the Gorgon’s treasury (the Gorgon is the Big Bad of the setting). What the Three Brothers really want is access to the Gate to Heavens (!) hidden somewhere in the Chimera’s lands in an ancient tomb, so that they could somehow skip their earthly existences and become divine beings or some such. They want the player characters to secure the tomb and planted rumors about the magic sword to confuse the Chimera (and would-be DMs too).

So, two rival factions trying to recruit the player characters to their cause, one evil, one non-evil but self-serving and dishonest about its true motives. Not a bad hook entirely, I think.

Except, there’s also:

  • The Monkey King (the chinese Monkey King? yes, the same) , an Animal Lord (?) who knows all about the Three Brothers and the Chimera because he was spying on them for some reason. He wants access to the Gate of Beastland (of course he does) to return home. Where’s the Gate? In the same aformentionned tomb, with the other gate! He also wants to mess with the Chimera so that she finally gets the last little nudge towards complete madness, for the fun of it. Oh! And speaking of fun, he stole the Sword of Roele and put it right where it was claimed to be but wasn’t before! He may be the one that convince the player character to embark on the adventure as he will present himself to them in the guise of an astrologer who foretells great events and all.

Now, let me say that this whole convoluted business with the Monkey King is completely incongruous. The Chimera/Three Brothers conflict was perfectly fine by itself. I’ve nothing against the Monkey King as a character but to put him in here, in this context? Why? I also think he’s avery bad fit for the Birthright setting thematically speaking.

That said, regardless of which faction convince the player characters to act, the next phase of the adventure will happen inside the Chimera’s domain.

They may choose to fight marauding gnolls that have been causing troubles in the region lately, in which case even if they brought their armies (a real possibily in Birthright), the number of gnolls will just match the number of soldiers they have. Sigh. But anyway, this part is just a sideshow.

aside: the adventure kind of forget about the possible players’s armies after that, too cumbersome?

What they’ll really have to do to advance in the adventure, after having some random encounters and passing through the territory of the « Lizard King » and his lizardmen, is going into the Cryprus Valley and find one specific tower of one of the Three Brothers and either speak with him or maybe kill him and his brothers (if they chose to work for the Chimera, nice to have the choice) and they’ll obtain the location of the Tomb of the Order of the Sun. This section could be accomplished really fast, depending on where the PCs land in the region, if they speak to NPCs and what the DM throws at them.

Whilst in the valley, the PCs will also encounter Jamila the bird maiden and her tribe of carnivorous apes. A bit of an odd NPC but if the adventurers agree to give a (subtantial) amount of meat to her apes, she’ll cast a divination spell that points to a « tower of the eye » (not to confuse with three other towers that they’ll come across…) and « speak to the stones ». Armed with this knowledge, the PCs will then go at the tomb site.

Around the Tomb

However, the entrance is hidden and as designed there’s two ways to find it. One is to go at the ruined temple in the vicinity and there the PCs will come upon the ghost of the good-aligned high priest of the Order of the Sun who will immediately try to possess one character to get inside the tomb. His goal is to accomplish the last rites he never had time to do properly on the corpse of a hero-knight. If the adventurers manage somehow to convince the ghost of their good will, they could gain an invaluable ally that knows a lot about the tomb (albeit one that wouldn’t tolerate tomb-robbing). Tricky, tricky.

The other way, also a complicated one, is to spot the aforementionned « tower of the eye » and, crossing the bridge leading to it, they’ll see Kengri the « petrified sleeping giant ». With a transmute rock to flesh or dispel magic, the adventurers would then have to convince the giant (he’s been put there to guard againts tomb-defilers the text says) to reveal to them the entrance of the tomb. What would help to convince him (the text also says) is the PCs to say that they’ll help the ghost of the high-priest to get in… Phew…

I think that my players (my sister in particular) would just let possess one underling to find the entrance and then to hell with the ghost… So not an impossible situation for savvy players but wow, if this adventure isn’t overly complicated in all the wrong places.

Next, the pièce de résistance, the dungeon/tomb!

Back to the beach – (meet the crabmen) – review

J’ai à peu près fait le tour des aventures des dungeon magazine (pdf gratuits en ligne) et, pour moi, l’aventure Back to the beach (par Willie Walsh, dungeon magazine 50, 1994) sort nettement du lot.

Synopsis: Un lieu de pèlerinage peu fréquenté devient tout d’un coup le centre d’attention lorsque des ruines sont découvertes sur place. Les agents du Roi envoyés pour démystifier l’endroit sont cependant confrontés à des créatures inconnues d’eux et fuient les lieux en proie à la panique. Un décret royal annonce une récompense aux braves aventuriers qui extermineront ces créatures.

Le gros de l’histoire tourne autour d’un malentendu (j’aime toujours cette prémisse), alors que des « monstres » sont perçus comme une menace devant être éliminée (classiquement), tandis que le scénario est parsemé d’indices pour le percer à jour (pour des joueurs le moindrement attentifs), ainsi que des fausses pistes pouvant égarer les têtes brûlées.

L’adversaire désigné, les Hommes-Crabes, n’en est pas vraiment un. Ceux-ci n’attaqueront que pour se défendre et ils ont des motivations autre que kill! kill! kill! D’ailleurs, chose assez rare dans D&D, l’auteur leur a élaboré une culture assez développée (pour un courte aventure) empreinte d’actes ritualisés et de petits traits quirky. Les Hommes-Crabes potentiellement rencontrés (non-hachés menu par les PJs) ont des noms, des personnalités distinctes, des rôles dans leur tribu, etc. Le tout est très divertissant à lire.

En quelques points:

  • courte aventure principalement d’investigation et de communication
  • peu de locations mais facilement intégrable dans une campagne déjà existante
  • peu d’avantages pécuniers pour les PJs
  • des alliées potentiels de gagnés plus la satisfaction de ne pas avoir massacrées des créatures évoluées!