Tuesday, August 17, 2010

REVIEW: A Trick on the Tain

I'm not, as most of you probably know, a player of Troll Lord Games's Castles & Crusades, but I retain a fondness for it, as it was the vehicle through which I began my return to old school gaming back in 2007. My issues with C&C, though, haven't blinded me to the fact that there have been a number of excellent adventures and support products published for it, most of which are easily translatable to other old school rules systems.

A good case in point is Keith Hackwood's adventure, A Trick on the Tain, released by Brave Halfling Publishing. Retailing for $9.95 in print, this module is 22 pages in length and includes art by Andy Taylor. It's a wilderness-based adventure written for 4-6 characters of levels 1-3 (a Challenge Level of 1-5 for those familiar with C&C's jargon), which I think makes it unusual. Most wilderness adventures are geared toward much higher-level characters, including Jim Raggi's Weird New World (which I'll review shortly). The practice of treating adventures of this sort as primarily the domain of higher-level PCs goes back to at least the days of the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh edition of D&D, but I don't think it was ever intended to have been treated as firm a "rule" as it has been over the years.

I was naturally well disposed to like A Trick on the Tain before I'd even had a chance to read it, as I don't think low-level characters should be dissuaded from undertaking wilderness adventures, even if they do tend to be potentially more risky than dungeon adventures. This module takes place in a northern tundra known as the Tain, a sparsely settled region that's home to two human kingdoms, slowly declining Rigerland and brutal Doggerland. Also present in the Tain are the nomadic, tribal Shum people. I can't say that I am too fond of the naming conventions adopted in this module. They're certainly not the worst I've ever seen, but they seemed both uninspired and likely to elicit chuckles at the gaming table. That's not a substantive criticism by any means, but I do think it might hamper some gamers from taking the module seriously and that'd be a shame, because it's a good one.

Though there is an overarching frame for the entire module, A Trick on the Tain is, in most respects, a location-based adventure that provides the referee with a map of the Tain region, random encounters, keyed locales, new monsters and magic items, as well as rules for cold weather effects. Taken together, it's a solid collection of ideas, some of them quite clever (such as the magical chaos arrow whose effects are random). There's nothing revolutionary about A Trick on the Tain; no one is going to be blown away by anything within its pages. It is, however, well written and engaging and, as I noted earlier, unusual in being a wilderness adventure aimed at low-level parties, thus making it helpful to referees interested in that sort of adventure for their campaigns.

It's also a good example of the old school design philosophy, leaving many aspects of the adventure open to referee interpretation rather than providing a definitive answer to every question that's likely to arise. I appreciate that and think it only adds to the module's utility, although some will no doubt disagree, expecting a published module to be completely self-explanatory. Consequently, I don't think A Trick on the Tain will have wide appeal, even to those who play Castles & Crusades. That shouldn't be seen a a knock against the module; if anything, it means that its author had a clear idea how he wanted to present this adventure and he followed it through. That's exactly what I'd like to see more of from old school products.

Presentation:
7 out of 10
Creativity: 7 out of 10
Utility: 5 out of 10

Buy This If: You're looking for a low-level location-based wilderness adventure and don't mind doing a little work to flesh out the details.
Don't Buy This If: You don't like wilderness adventures or would rather that adventure modules come completely ready-to-play.

2 comments:

  1. Whoa, I thought this had something to do with the Táin Bó Cúailnge. Love Irish mythology.

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  2. Thanks for the review James, fair comments all - I must admit I was quite surprised to come across it, being a long-time lurker at your blog and not remembering too much C&C coverage...

    There's a tale to tell regarding the writing of Trick on the Tain and how it came to be a wilderness adventure for low level intro PCs, though maybe here isn't the place

    Thanks again

    Keith

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