Monday, April 18, 2011

REVIEW: Knowledge Illuminates

Knowledge Illuminates is the first adventure in the "One-Shot Adventure Series" by Tim Shorts. As its introduction explains, this means that it's intended to be completed in a single session of play. Written for Swords & Wizardry characters of 1st or 2nd level, the adventure describes a small wilderness and a one-level structure located within it, along with a new monster, magic item, spell, and medicinal plant. Despite this brevity -- the entire PDF is only 15 pages long, with a page devoted to both the cover and the Open Game License -- there's a surprising amount of suggested depth. This is due in no small part to little touches Shorts has placed throughout the text to aid the referee both in running the adventure and in fleshing out its environments and inhabitants. For example, a bandit hideout includes the following note at the end of its entry:
One bandit, James, a scrawny fellow, cannot keep his mouth shut. When the players talk he will call them names under his breath then deny he said anything.
It's a small thing, admittedly, but, in just two brief sentences, Shorts gives the referee the hook he needs to turn another ho-hum encounter with bandits into something more memorable. Touches like that can be found throughout Knowledge Illuminates and the adventure is the better for them.

As noted earlier, the adventure takes place in a small wilderness area, which consists of seven keyed areas, one of which is described in detail with a map of its own. This detailed area, Tergul's Workshop, was once home to a devout and secretly wealthy alchemist. A tragedy occurred in the Workshop, resulting in the unleashing of an evil force, as well as the deaths of Tergul and others. The aftermath of that tragedy is still apparent when the PCs stumble across the ruined Workshop and it provides the framing device for this location-based module.

Given its explicit purpose as a single-session adventure, Knowledge Illuminates is necessarily limited in its scope. Tergul's Workshop has only eleven rooms, the bulk of which are uninhabited. However, many of these rooms contain mysteries, or at least hidden elements, pertaining to the tragedy that led to the destruction of the Workshop and those within it. Indeed, these mysteries provide ready-made hooks for spin-off adventures that, depending on the wishes of the referee, could conceivably occupy the characters for some time. Likewise, the implied setting of Knowledge Illuminates, which incorporates elements from Rob Conley's Blackmarsh OGL setting, was actually of interest to me, which is unusual in adventures designed to be easily transportable to a referee's home campaign with a minimum of fuss.

The 15-page PDF is no frills. The two-column layout is nothing fancy and the artwork consists entirely of clipart. The maps are all excellent, though, being the work of Rob Conley, whose clean and straightforward style I find both easy on my aging eyes and useful in play. Of course, it's the text of Knowledge Illuminates that is the main attraction here and I'm happy to say it does not disappoint. Shorts's writing is spare and unornamented but that's no criticism. In an adventure this short, there's no room for purple prose. Yet, as I commented earlier, there's nevertheless a lot of detail and inspiration to be found in this brief module, making it one of the more evocative short adventures I've read in some time.

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

Buy This If: You're looking for a well-made and intriguing short adventure for low-level characters to drop into your campaign.
Don't Buy This If: You prefer adventures to be longer or have no need for a beginning-level adventure of any length.


  1. James thanks for the great review, very much appreciated. Glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Thanks for the nice comments on the maps.

  3. @Tim and Rob: This review is spot-on, James is right to praise your fine work on KI. More adventures please!

  4. Hey I just purchased the module after reading this post. I read the first few teaser pages and had to know more. I'm not disappointed! This a perfect start for an old school campaign or any other. The demon sweetens the deal for future roleplaying. Insanity table, anyone? Thanks, guys.