Friday, March 5, 2010

REVIEW: Under Siege

Under Siege, written by Moritz Mehlem, is an adventure module for Labyrinth Lord characters of levels 2-4, although it could probably be adapted to almost any old school version of D&D and its retro-clones without too much effort. Described as volume I of the "tabletop adventures" series, Under Siege details an attack on the isolated village of Larm by a humanoid army under the command the hobgoblin king Prakranz. Consequently, it's very combat-heavy and, while there are opportunities for roleplaying, the focus of the module is on defending Larm through force of arms rather than diplomacy or subterfuge.

Under Siege is divided into chapters, each of which corresponds to a different phase of the humanoid army's actions against the village, from the initial sounding of the alarm when waves of kobolds appear to a waterborne attack to a desperate final push. Sprinkled throughout the chapters are shorter "interludes" that detail other events that occur during the siege. These events are all optional, but their inclusion is highly recommended, not only because they add depth to the siege but because they give the characters the opportunity to do something other fight (although, to be fair, many of the interludes include combat as well).

Under Siege is well organized, although the text is not always as clear as one might like. There are a few peculiar turns of phrase and word choices that may be an artifact of its author's not being a native English speaker. That said, it's still quite easy to use and I very much appreciated the way that each chapter and interlude provided all the information needed to use it in play, including a listing of their possible outcomes and the consequences thereof. The module helpfully includes appendices with the stats of all opponents and NPCs, as well as a tally sheet that the referee can tick off as opponents are slain.

From what I have described thus far, I can fully understand if Under Siege fails to garner much interest. After all, its scenario is one we've all seen many times before and, while there are a few unusual elements (such as the inclusion of a spidergoat from Mutant Future in the order of battle), none are truly innovative, at least not to old hands who've seen it all before. What Under Siege does offer, however, and what I suspect will be its main draw are 17 pages of 25mm scale maps and counters to aid the players and the referee in running the siege of Larm, most of which was illustrated by Andy Taylor. Printed in color onto thick paper or cardboard, these maps and counters alone more than justify the PDF's $5.00 price. I was favorably reminded of the classic B/X module, Night's Dark Terror, which included a similarly large collection of maps and counters for use in simulating a siege of a remote bastion of civilization.

In the final analysis, the value of Under Siege to any given referee depends on two factors. First, do you want/need the outline for an extended tabletop combat between a force of humanoids and a band of beleaguered townsfolk led by the PCs? Second, do you want/need maps and counters to enable you to run this tabletop combat (and others like it)? If the answer to both question is "yes," I would not hesitate to recommend this module. If the answer is no to both, you'd be wise to avoid it.

If, on the other hand, you want/need the maps and counters alone, it's probably still worth the price. The chapters and interludes are of a workmanlike quality -- solid but not inspired -- but their real value is only realized in conjunction with the well-done maps and counters. As the first volume in this series, I think it likely that author Moritz Mehlem is still finding his way in presenting engaging tabletop combat scenarios. For that reason, I look forward to future releases. If they can improve upon the solid start of Under Siege, they'll make excellent and useful additions to old school gaming options.

Presentation: 7 out of 10
Creativity: 6 out of 10
Utility: 6 out of 10

Buy This If: You're looking for a simple tabletop mass combat scenario and/or an inexpensive alternative to metal miniatures.
Don't Buy This If: You have no interest in tabletop mass combats.

2 comments:

  1. Yeah, the scenario where where the characters take the "7" role from the Magnificent Seven (or Seven Samurai, of course) is something I would guess 99% of DM's who have been at it for awhile have presented. I know I have twice a decade or so. Defending a village from monsters in pitched battle is always great fun for players (and really makes the DM work his muscles).

    Man, I think the spider goat justs gets waaaaaaaaaay too much ink.

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  2. I would definitely concur that when I first saw this module in playtest over a year ago on one of the forums; B10 Night's Dark Terror and the goblin town seige came to mind. One of my all-time favorites...

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