Monday, June 17, 2013

Review: Against the Slave Lords

As is well-known by now, Wizards of the Coast has been re-issuing a number of classic books and adventures in suped-up fancy versions, as well as making more and more of its back catalog available in pdf. While this is certainly laudable and speaks to their intention of serving fans of previous versions as well as new versions (doubtless with an eye towards bringing in the former when D&D Next rolls out next year), I've largely skipped the re-issues because I have all the originals, mostly purchased when they first came out.

However, when I heard that WotC was not only reissuing the original A1-4 "Slavers" adventures, but also including a brand-new A0 prequel module, I had to get the book, if only for the sake of completeness.

I have to say I'm pretty impressed.

The new adventure, written by Skip Williams, is A0 "Danger at Darkshelf Quarry". It takes up 23 of the first 28 pages of the book, and seems to be a suitable way to easy the PCs into the machinations of the Slave Lords (although it takes place in southernmost Nyrond, as opposed to the Wild Coast where the other adventures in the series take place). It's designed for characters level 1-3, but given that Slave Pits of the Undercity is for levels 4-7, and I don't really see any way the adventure could jump up PCs 3 or 4 levels, some more intermediate action is probably going to have to be invented by the DM to bridge the gap. One thing I really like is that there's a mocked-up module cover for Darkshelf Quarry on the back card of the book, done up in a similar style to the other four module covers. That was a nice touch.

The rest of the book is given up to the classic series of 4 modules. It's not merely a scan of the original; everything has been retyped and formatted to follow the original, although there are obvious discrepancies between the two in terms of where paragraphs begin and end on the page, etc. The book features the wonderful original art and maps from the 1980's modules, and ends with a gallery of modern fan-art inspired by the series (among whose ranks you'll find several artists who also appear in the Adventures Dark and Deep™ books). They did a very good job of recreating the original look and feel, and all in all this would be a fine way to introduce the classic series to new players.

The back cover card does indicate that the adventures are "Playable with D&D Next rules found at DNDNext.com". However, there are no mechanics for the new version of the game in the book; to use it with the new rules one must download a conversion packet from the website. Even the new adventure is written using the 1st edition rules. I didn't see any module conversion notes in my copy of the latest playtest packet, but I did see a bestiary with D&D Next stats for the various A0-4 monsters (well, A0-5; apparently this month's Dungeon magazine will feature another new adventure, "The Last Slave Lord").

On the whole, I'm very pleased with this book, and will probably want to integrate Darkshelf Quarry into my next Greyhawk campaign.