Tuesday, August 4, 2009

REVIEW: The Fane of Poisoned Prophecies

I'm pretty well known as a guy who would like to see the old school renaissance do more than endlessly rehash Keep on the Borderlands and ape TSR's trade dress circa 1978. While I'm quite happy to use cloned rules, I'm far more reluctant to use cloned adventures, which is what I fear a great many recent old school adventures amount to. I'm not wholly opposed to clever reworkings of module staples, of course, but the operative word is "clever," which is a rarity in any age but particularly so in an age when the esthetic and creative choices of the past are treated as normative rather than merely one possible approach among many.

That's why I tend to think more highly of old school products that push the boundaries of the form a little bit. Guy Fullerton's The Fane of Poisoned Prophecies doesn't push any boundaries, but I liked it anyway. This 24-page module succeeds, in my opinion, not because it so closely mimics the look of the TSR modules of old (right down to the cover artwork by Peter Mullen, everyone's favorite Erol Otus stand-in), but because it possesses that elusive quality of "cleverness." The author takes a somewhat hackneyed premise -- investigate weird goings-on at an ancient temple -- and spins it into an imaginative site-based adventure that's easily usable in any campaign -- not high art by any means but still something well worth celebrating.

The Fane of Poisoned Prophecies takes place within a Sun Temple that houses an oracle whose prophecies are sought out near and far. When her oracular powers seemingly start to fail, providing false pronouncements to those who seek them, it arouses suspicion and the player characters set out to investigate. Once at the Sun Temple, the characters must contend with its sacred guardians, as well as otherworldly invaders who've taken over the Temple and are the cause for the oracle's feigned prophecies. In the process, they discover the true purpose of the Temple and the secret that lies hidden within its walls.

My apologies if that description is vague, as I didn't want to give away the Temple's secret, which is something I think D&D has lacked for some time and that fits in well with its pulp fantasy roots. At the same time, the secret is a mere prelude for what is to come, as this module is the first of a proposed trilogy, the second of which will likely deal with the topic in greater detail. Indeed, if there's one thing that disappointed me about The Fane of the Poisoned Prophecies, it's that its cleverest idea is mostly alluded to rather than actually presented within its pages. Yet, the idea is clever enough that it gives a wonderful ambience to the entire module that enjoyably propels it along. I can only hope that its sequel is in fact published and lives up to the expectations this module generated.

This adventure module uses the AD&D 1e rules and proudly states that fact on the cover. Why it didn't use OSRIC I cannot say. It's intended for a party of 4th-6th level characters and should definitely prove a challenge. Many of the monsters it uses are from later AD&D books, like the Fiend Folio and Monster Manual II, which gives the whole thing a slightly "weird" quality vaguely reminiscent of The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, although not quite as intense, perhaps because the writing is much more workmanlike than was Gygax's. The interior artwork by Jason Braun and Andy Taylor varies in quality, with the best pieces being those of Taylor, an artist whose work has, I think, improved considerably over the last year and whose style is wholly his own rather than being imitative of any of TSR's stable from the Golden Age.

In short, The Fane of the Poisoned Prophecies is a clever module. It doesn't break new ground but it does what it sets out to do quite well, in addition to setting the scene for what I hope will be sequels that do open up some new vistas for Dungeons & Dragons. Goodness knows the old school scene could use a few more of them nowadays.

Presentation: 7 out of 10
Creativity: 8 out of 10
Utility: 7 out of 10

Buy This If: You're looking for a clever, site-based adventure for mid-level characters that uses old tropes to good effect.
Don't Buy This If: You're looking for a module that stretches the limits of what old school gaming is all about.

12 comments:

  1. I bought this when it came out on the strength of the cover alone...Peter Mullen is truly awesome...and was just as impressed with the adventure.

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  2. From a technical standpoint, that is not only a fine Peter Mullen cover, it is a fine piece of art. Beautiful shadows and perspective. ;D

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  3. Am I right in deducing that this book isn't available for purchase as a PDF? (I don't even know what to do when I can't buy a gaming book as a PDF... is that even allowed?)

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  4. I have this and enjoyed reading it, but am yet to run it. I will say that I thought the "otherworldly invaders" are a sort that I am not a big fan of, but they fit very well with the temple's secret.

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  5. James, thanks very much for taking the time to review the module!

    The link in the review points directly at one of the online stores selling it (which is cool), but for previews and such you can go here:
    http://www.chaotichenchmen.com

    @Steven: Currently the module is only available as a print product. A pdf version is not entirely out of the question at some point in the future.

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  6. I hope you do release it as a pdf Guy and have said so before on your blog - I'd buy it in a heart beat. International postal costs are a killer. It's a shame only to read reviews of your work and not see it for myself.

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  7. Not releasing a pdf version of a commercial product is basically throwing money away...

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  8. Oh NOOOOOO, thhis thing with otherworldly invaders starts to sound like Blackmoor's Temple Of The Frog!!!! Otherworldly aliens with totalitarian systems and high tech! What will they have next? Otherworldly political asylum seekers in the Greyhawk?

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  9. This adventure module uses the AD&D 1e rules and proudly states that fact on the cover.

    That’s almost enough to earn my money alone. I’m sick of a world in which people are afraid to use trademarks in perfectly valid, ethical, and legal fashions. I fear the more we don’t, the more easily the law will expand to deny us such rights.

    (Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against OSRIC.)

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  10. I only found out about this module today. I am quite impressed with what I have seen and would like to put my hand up as someone who would like to see a PDF of this. I'll have to wait and save my dollars for a print copy in the meantime (the shipping to Australia is the killer, at the moment). In any case, I am certainly interested in seeing more.

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  11. Oh NOOOOOO, thhis thing with otherworldly invaders starts to sound like Blackmoor's Temple Of The Frog!!!! Otherworldly aliens with totalitarian systems and high tech! What will they have next? Otherworldly political asylum seekers in the Greyhawk?

    Not quite. What I really liked about this module -- and what sets it apart from others with similar themes -- is that it isn't a genre bender as such. It's pure fantasy, which makes it much more accessible to gamers who don't like to add does of sci-fi into their fantasy. There's no science fiction here.

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  12. Like Wulfgar22, I initially purchased this module for that amazing Mullen cover alone. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the excellent contents. I very much would like to run this module at some point! Unfortunately, I doubt that it would smoothly fit into my current campaign.

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