Sunday, 10 May 2015

Review: “Bad Light” by Owen K. C. Stephens

Welcome back to the Original Adventures series reviews. Wizards of the Coast produced these free modules to support their Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 line, but they mostly use the core books and are easily played under D&D 3.0 or Pathfinder RPG rules. Owen K. C. Stephens' Bad Light continues a run of very brief modules, this time 8 pages aimed at four 4th-level adventurers.  Although it's no longer available for free on Wizards' website, the new price is just $0.99 for a copy of Bad Light.

Bad Light has quite a pretty map, drawn up to resemble a work on old parchment. But it's not intended to be a hand-out, and the colour scheme makes it harder to read. (My vision is very good and I found myself squinting to pick out the key when it was at 100% on my screen, which doesn't promise much for a printed copy.) I don't really understand what the art department was thinking – if the map is a tool for the DM, the first priority is to make the thing useful.

This module's scenario is very similar to that in Wreck Ashore: ships are falling prey to a navigation hazard. Unfortunately, rather than give the DM a default location, Stephens presents the “gift” of being able to place his scenario anywhere in the campaign world and lets us know that “The adventure begins when the characters come within sight range of [the tower]”! I understand what he means by this (“the adventure” being the module) and good instructions for an overland adventure would have required much more than an 8-page module. Nonetheless, a quick remark encouraging the DM to tie the scenario into a larger adventure would have cost the writer little. What background has been provided is fairly pedestrian, except for the inclusion of the ancient and unexplained Pearl Tower. Bad Light doesn't illuminate (sorry) or utilise the mystery of the tower in the slightest and I can't help suspecting that the history of the place has just been hand-waved.

Stephens lays out six encounter areas to his site. There are some notes on development in case the PCs want to drag their heels, although with such a short adventure this is hardly an antidote to the quarter-hour workdays. The encounters chosen aren't particularly varied and there is a great deal of highlighted text using up words that could have gone to better establishing the background or even just explaining things like where the characters find the targets of their Search checks. Still, I found a few points of interest reading through his encounter notes. There's advice on how one of the monsters might escape from combat, and even a quick note on how another might be enticed to work along with the PCs. These pointers are helpful to the time-starved DM and novice alike, and Stephens deserves some praise for their inclusion.

I was also very pleased to see the number of “empty” rooms in Bad Light. If the map makes many of them avoidable and a group could certainly march on to the experience and treasure, the module at least has quick descriptions (e.g. “Trophy Room”) for a DM with more inquisitive players. The extra rooms also make good on Stephens' suggestion that the party might end up using the Pearl Tower as a base of operations – although this is very much dependant upon the structure being convenient to their usual stomping ground.

My rating is 3/5. Even if it doesn't have everything I might like, Bad Light is a decent module and could be used to plug a one session gap in a campaign without too much trouble. I'd recommend to anyone running it that the open questions about the history and location of the tower get a bit of thought before play starts, as the right answers could make the Pearl Tower an important part of your campaign world.

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