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Reviews: Rappan Athuk 3
 
by Joe G. Kushner


Rappan Athuk 3 coverRappan Athuk 3: The Dungeon of Graves - The Lower Levels
Written by Bill Webb, W.D.B. Kenower, and Clark Peterson
Published by Necromancer Games
112 b&w pages
$15.95

There are a couple of ways you can come into something like Rappan Thuk 3. Either you've finally beaten Rappan Athuk 1 & 2 and are hungry for more, or your GM is anxious either to kill you or push you to Epic Levels. This adventure was designed for parties 12th level and higher, and when it states higher, there are some encounters that'll challenge 20th level characters. The bad news? Well, there's not really any introduction or method to get to the dungeon. There is a free Wilderness encounter from the Necromancer Games website, which interested parties should check out. But it's pretty much assumed that you're going to use the previous two modules first and continue moving through this death trap. Is all that effort worth it?

Oh yes.

Delving Deeper (Spoilers Ahead)
The name of the game here isn't so much traps, illusions, challenges or brute force, but dangerous NPCs with lots of tactical advice and ideas on how to run them. This module deals with levels 9, 9B, 9C, 10, 10A, 11, 11A, 12, 12A, 13, 13A, 14 and 15 of the Rappan Athuk dungeon. That's a lot of levels with a lot of maps to go with 'em. This is one case where perhaps a little bit more homage to 1st edition feel in a separate book that collected the maps would've worked out great.

So what can we expect to find in the lower levels? How about a Temple to Orcus in Level 9? Players get to challenge gorgons, glabrezu, and priests of orcus. How about two sections (Level 9B and 9C), dealing with Agamemnon, a powerful vampire wizard? How about beholders, liches, demons, and a special appearance by the big guy himself?

One of the things I moaned about when I saw it in the Agamemnon section was an encounter with "helpless women." After seeing this done in two books in the Maze series, I was wondering when Necromancer Games was going to let this horse die, but to my surprise, there is a way to avoid battling the "helpless" females. Remember how I said this adventure's about tactics? Well, Agememmon is the first example of such an encounter. Not only is he a high level wizard with a minor artifact sword, but he's a vampire and has access to spells from Relics & Rituals.

Of course, the adventure's not just about fighting NPCs. Level 10 includes The Lava Pit, which makes the party struggle against a potentially lethal environment. This section has the potential to slow up any group. Not only do the characters have to cope with the vast amount of heat, they'll also battle Salamanders, noble Thoqqua, Efreeti, and the lord of the Salamanders (Irtuk, a high level Sorcerer). Hmmm... I guess you can't get away from that whole NPC enemy bit.

Some sections, like 10A, the Great Cavern, allow the GM to simply throw things at the party since the group is described as being in the "open" where they'll attract a lot of attention. Normally this wouldn't be such a bad deal, but here the wandering encounters include things like Umber Hulks, Gargoyles, Ghouls and Xorn. Those looking for a little role playing in their dungeon crawls may be able to engage that desire with Villix, a beholder who seeks the death of another beholder in the maze and is willing to pay well to have it done. There are other creatures that must be negotiated with as well, like Slavish, a lich whose power level surpasses Agamemnon's. Fortunately, it actually benefits the party greatly to parley with the lich as he has a sword that can come in handy. What do you suppose a sword called Demonbane does? If you said help kill demons, you were right.

Level 11, The Waterfall and Akbeth's Grave, involves more environmental challenges and a chance for the party to finish off Zaggothma, the beholder that Villix wants dead. Akbeth was the love of Agamemnon's life and was punished by her goddess by being turned into living metal. Little details like this help make the maze more than just a giant deathtrap. It's a deathtrap with an interesting backstory.

Level 11A, The Gates of the Goblin City and the Vampire Lair, present the party with the opportunity to clash with 40 wraiths and a 14th level fighter vampire. That's right, 40 wraiths. While a 12th level party will find this encounter challenging, this vampire is nothing compared to Slavish and Agamemnon.

Level 12: The Slave Pits, provides opportunities to free other adventurers from various torture devices, as well as battle against a number of goblin NPCs. The nice thing about freeing the low level adventurers here is the GM can weave those little deeds into other adventures, having the players revisit the dungeon through different eyes.

The goblin city proper doesn't come alive until Level 12A, Grezneck, where smart players won't have to spend all of their time fighting. This is another excellent opportunity for players hungry to role-play, as the party must maintain a relatively low level of aggression and hide any of the races that the goblins hate (you know, minor races like elves, half-elves, gnomes and dwarves). There are several minor quests that the party can undertake here ranging from assassinating specific goblins for magic items, to joining one of the Fight Circles, which is similar to gladiatorial combat.

Level 13: The Portal of Darkness provides the palyers the means to fight Orcus. The group must overcome a ghost paladin who guards the gate. The terrible irony here is that this paladin was once a lot like the party, intent on battling Orcus. Of course he lost and now serves the demon prince of the undead as his guardian. This encounter can reinforce how terrible an encounter with Orcus can be and what the consequences of losing really are.

Level 13A describes the Goblin Barracks where the party can become embroiled in goblin politics, or simply wipe them out. Following that is Level 14: The Chapel of Orcus, which holds another one of the Shrines of Power that wise party members will destroy. Of course Maphistal, a unique greater demon, the wraiths, shadows, clerics and mariliths may have something to say about that.

Level 15: The Den of the Master, is the last battle with said "Master." This is a battle royale on an epic scale, as the party gets to take on Orcus himself. This is where you'll find one of the cool things Necromancer did: they provided four different sets of stats for the big boy depending on the actions of the party. If the party was wise and managed to destroy those pesky shrines to Orcus throughout the dungeon, Orcus is greatly weakened. If they haven't, and they're not Epic level, they're probably dead.

After the adventure, there's a Monster Appendix. This includes Banshees, Fungus Men, Gas Spores, and Maphistal (a greater demon that serves Orcus). I enjoyed seeing the Gas Spores again as I have fond memories of these Beholder-looking sacks of disease from my junior years (Well, looking back, I guess those memories are only fond when I GMed). Most importantly though, and lets not kid ourselves here, this section contains stats for Orcus and his wand.

The writing itself is a little rough in places, and at times made me feel like the module is meant for a newcomer. "He fights until slain to protect his immortality." Okay, am I the only one who finds that statement a little like Jumbo Shrimp or Army Intelligence? In other places, the mechanics could be a little clearer: "Anyone unfortunate enough to fall through this section of the bridge drops 200 feet to the river below, suffering 20d6 points of falling damage unless a successful Reflex save (DC 18) is made." Now is the save for the falling damage, or is it to avoid falling? I'm pretty sure it's to avoid falling in the first place, but the text could be more carefully worded.

The book is presented in two standard columns of text broken up by illustrations. Most of these are charcoal like drawings with lots of variations of black and gray giving definition to the pictures, each usually a third of the page. A few illustrations are pen and ink style. The text density is satisfying for the most part, but at the end of some sections, there's an unusual amount of white space (page 14, two thirds of the page; 19, half the page; 24, about half a page; a few others). Playing around with the picture placement or font size might've been able to change this, but having everything broken up into its own sections is good enough for most, especially given the size of the module.

Maps are placed squarely in the middle of the module, all 14 pages of 'em. There are some smaller maps that are collected here and used again in the module for ease of reference sake. The maps are simple and fairly easy to use but some of the smaller ones aren't quite as friendly and I'm glad that these smaller encounter maps are reprinted with the text when the GM is using that section.

Conclusions
Despite some misgivings I have about the style of the writing and the viability of any party to thrive in this environment (hey, it's a dungeon, they should know better ahead of time!), I find this a great addition to my library. First off, it uses some material from the Scarred Lands from Relics & Rituals and Creature Collection. I'm all for brand new monsters, spells and magic items, but it's nice to have an internal consistency to the world too and when publishers start using other OGC material, especially that published under the same umbrella, it makes the GMs job easier.

Rappan Athuk 3 is an excellent example of how to use devastating tactics against the players. Players who survive will know quite a bit more about fighting wisely than they did before. This is a fitting end to a difficult dungeon and shows that even high-level characters should fear the dark. Those looking to scale upwards towards Epic levels should look no further than Rappan Athuk 3.


 

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