Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Retrospective: The Final Enemy

Published in 1983, The Final Enemy is the conclusion of the trilogy of AD&D adventure modules that began with The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh and continued in Danger at Dunwater. Like both its predecessors, module U3 was written by Dave J. Browne with assistance from Don Turnbull. This authorial continuity is important, lending a consistency of content and tone to the three modules that was missing in, for example, the slightly earlier Slave Lords series (though, to be fair, the latter were originally written for tournament use). 

Unfortunately, this consistency does not extend to the module's artwork. Whereas Saltmarsh and Dunwater featured some excellent illustrations by James Holloway and Harry Quinn, The Final Enemy includes some of the least attractive artwork Keith Parkinson ever produced, which gives the whole thing a drab, uninspiring feel. That's too bad, because, like the other adventures in the series, module U3 possesses some unique elements that set it apart from the AD&D adventures of its time.

The Secret of Saltmarsh was, at base, a mystery. Meanwhile, Danger at Dunwater focused on reconnaissance and diplomacy. The Final Enemy also includes a significant reconnaissance element, as the player characters, aided by up to 20 NPCs, scout out the sahuagin fortress in preparation for the main part of the scenario – an all-out assault on the fortress of the evil underwater humanoids. That assault forms the bulk of the module's content, with lots of attention given to the fortress, its many inhabitants, and their tactics in defending their lair. The whole affair has, in my opinion, a very naturalistic cast to it, with the sahuagin behaving in a rational manner in response to a combined attack by the PCs, the people of the town of Saltmarsh, and their lizard men allies (assuming they were successful in forging an alliance with them in Danger at Dunwater).

One might reasonably question whether a military-style assault against evil humanoids genuinely offers anything we haven't seen many times before in Dungeons & Dragons. The very first AD&D module ever published featured something in a similar vein and many of the scenarios that followed in its considerable wake followed its pattern. What distinguishes The Final Enemy from its forebears is its attention to planning and preparation, not to mention the additional forces the PCs can bring to bear in their efforts. Remember that this module is intended for use with characters of levels 3–5, which is still well within the level range where PCs can easily die if they are not careful.

This is a fact the module mentions several times, starting with its introduction: 

The DM must recognise from the outset that this is a very dangerous module for the characters. Play-testing has shown that the mission can be accomplished by a courageous, thoughtful party whose members have planned their incursion into the fortress carefully. Equally, play-testing has demonstrated that careless players who fail to plan ahead can quickly land their characters in serious trouble, in which case those characters are fortunate if they are able to escape from the fortress area alive.

Similar warnings are found throughout the text and rightly so. The Final Enemy could indeed be called a military-style adventure with plenty of opportunities for combat against monstrous foes. Despite that, it is not a hack-and-slash adventure and appropriately-leveled characters who behave as if it were will soon find themselves dead. Instead, players are well advised to make good use of their reconnaissance and allies to defeat the sahuagin through equal parts ingenuity and boldness.

There's an additional aspect of this module that sets it apart from its contemporaries, as well as contributing to its potential danger to the unprepared. Much of the sahuagin fortress is underwater, meaning that the player characters and many of their allies will be at a disadvantage when fighting unless they take precautions. These precautions come in many forms, including magic items and spells that enable the PCs to breathe water, but few are easily obtainable without making full use of reconnaissance and, in one case, thoughtful interaction with a potentially friendly NPC. Underwater adventures are rare, so many players will not have much experience with their niceties. The Final Enemy makes good use of this fact to present a memorable and quite challenging adventure, one that's fun in its own right and as a satisfying conclusion to the entire U-series of modules.


  1. "The Final Enemy" shows you can create an engaging, immersive story-oriented adventure without the railroad. It's also just a fun capper to a terrific series of modules.

  2. One of my favorite early adventures. The reconnaissance element is great, this is not a module that can simply be overpowered.

    This was the first adventure I played with a heavy underwater element. Being underwater gave combat a very interesting twist, a vertical dimension normally only associated with flying creatures.