Saturday, 11 February 2017

Review: "Lest Darkness Rise" by Owen K. C. Stephens

Dungeons and Dragons "Lest Darkness Rise" Original Adventure for 7th Level Characters
This is another installment of the Original Adventures series reviews.  Once again, the author is Owen K. C. Stephens, but this time I'm reviewing his Halloween special for October 2004, Lest Darkness Rise.  The module was designed with a party of 7th level characters and D&D 3.5 in mind.  As the module doesn't make use of exotic sourcebooks, conversion to other D20 games (especially the Pathfinder RPG) is possible.  Although no longer available for free on Wizards' website, DriveThruRPG has $0.99 copies of Lest Darkness Rise.

Lest Darkness Rise runs to fifteen pages, two of which reproduce full colour maps from the excellent "Map a Week" series.  Stephens promises a stronger horror theme than usual.  I can't say that the background was chilling or frightening, but it's not so bad that it's horrific either.  The tale of Arathex is simply prosaic, presenting a necromancer who is every bit as mundane as a file clerk.  Worse yet, the story presents the adventure location as highly accessible to various heroes and necromancers, a short skip from the prosperous town of "Night Falls" (which specialises in the burial business).  This isn't a problem in itself, but the introduction to the module tells us that the action will occur in a relatively depopulated and remote area.  Sloppy!  Probably the most entertaining way to use the background is to play it up for laughs and have Arathex's accomplice declare, "And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!"

There are three hooks provided and sadly none of them involve the party traveling around in a van.  On the bright side, the action does pick up with a startled local who has just seen a g-g-g-ghost!  My favourite reason for PCs meddling in other people's business appears, with a reward of thousands of gold pieces offered to the party if they're prepared to resolve the ghost problem.

Turning to the adventure site, things take a better turn.  The surrounding area has odds for encountering random monsters and a random table for generating them.  There's even a DM special to vex the rules scholars!  Stephens keeps up his Saturday morning cartoon theme by using a skull-shaped hill as the main site, but the encounters within aren't bad.  There isn't a great variety of threats but a group of players who enjoy a D20 hack-and-slay should have a good time.  I didn't carefully calculate it, but the rewards seem to merit the risks.  Oddly, there is a note of real horror in the conclusion to the adventure, in which Stephens outlines the consequences of failure, but by and large it comes across as camp.

Believe it or not, my rating is 3/5.  This isn't a great module, but it's complete and ready to run.  For a group that can enjoy it as a Scooby Doo type comedy, Lest Darkness Rise is well worth a shot.  Those hoping for a serious horror experience should look elsewhere.