Review: Ruins of the Dragon Lord
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Type of Product: Adventure/Module/Campaign
Publisher Web page
Roleplaying Tips RPG Shop Product Page
Ruins of the Dragon Lord is a complete campaign designed to take characters from 1st level to 20+. The adventure is geared toward dungeon crawling and there are plenty of opportunities for roleplay as well. It is written by J. C. Alvarez, comes in a box, and has several design features that make it interesting and useful. I'm giving Ruins of the Dragon Lord a thumbs-up based on my best test for modules: would I run it? The answer is yes, and I'm planning on using pieces of it for my current campaign, therefore I recommend you check this product out.
What's In The Box?
Your game store might not have an open copy to check out, so here's a contents listing:
- Book 1: Tales of Mount Moru. 128 pages, softcover.
- Book 2: The Dragon Stone. 64 pages, softcover.
- Book 3: The Path of the Archaneroth. 128 pages, softcover.
- Map 1: The Moru Country. Poser-size, colour; side 1 is a map of the region; side 2 contains a painting of the box cover.
- Map 2: Double-sided, poster-size, colour dungeon map.
- 9 Maps: 8.5" x 11" colour maps of various dungeon levels and locations.
This mega-adventure contains a variety of challenges with an interesting array of NPC and monstrous foes. You will have plenty of opportunities for hacking, parley, and problem solving. This product represents a complete campaign, so your character and party of friends will be following a single storyline from 1st level until 20th, give or take modifications your GM might take. The campaign will have a high fantasy feel, with lots of loot opportunities, and there will be a lot of dungeon crawling type play.
My first impression of the product as I opened the box was one of confusion. Once I examined all the contents and started reading though, I got a handle on the organization of the materials. It would have been nice to have some kind of guide, such as a sheet of paper, numbers on the books, or more explicit book titles, to learn where to start and how to proceed digesting and preparing the adventure. This is a minor quibble though, as once you figure things out you won't face this problem again. If you get this product, head for the Tales of Mount Moru book first, as its intro pages give you the best overview. Plus, I found reading it the most interesting on first-pass due to the type of information it contains, as described below.
The campaign is intended to take PCs from 1st to 20+ level, along a single storyline that involves an ancient threat located deep within a dungeon-riddled mountain--Mount Moru. Note that PCs need not be newbies to get involved (you can be in mid-campaign currently before launching this plot), and bypass type instructions are provided at each stage on how and where to integrate experienced adventurers. A complete campaign history, mythos, and adventure background is provided, and in my opinion, the location is transportable without difficulty within your own game world. A tribal culture underpins the plot, but this is not required to run the core adventure. If you have logical and geographical room to add a region of tribes in the area of the mountain though, I recommend it to get the most use and enjoyment from the module's materials.
The product has interesting design features. Rather than having the dungeon span one large book, the background, colour, and encounter info is separated into three smaller books. The Path of the Archaneroth book covers the dungeon locations and encounters. Tales of Mount Moru provides tactical, background, colour, and meta-level information for each adventure stage and dungeon level. The Dragon Stone contains background and campaign-level information. I quite enjoyed this layout. I didn't need to scour encounters for the colour information. Depending on the information I wanted to read at any given time, I could pick up that particular book and get to what I wanted without a lot of page flipping. Each stage or level of the module has its own environment, stage bosses, plot goals, and GMing angle. I especially appreciated having a book that concentrated on this type of information, leaving room descriptions, encounter tactics, and other micro details to another, specialized location.
The pick-a-part design is another cool feature. Each level can be used independently of the product as a stand-alone mini-adventure. The Tales of Mount Moru book has sections titled Chapter Guide that give you information on expected PC levels, hooks, dependencies, and adapting the level for external use. This transforms the product into a "book" of side plots, encounters, and short adventures, letting you get maximum value for your buck. For example, there's a level involving frost and fire giants that I plan on scooping for my current campaign, and the Chapter Guide makes this easy and will help me from getting the product's storyline mixed up with mine.
Standard monster stats are not provided, and you are expected to get them from other sources, such as the Monster Manual and DMG (and may I recommend d20srd.org to you as well?). I like this design decision, as it leaves a lot more room for plot, encounter, and campaign info. Special critters and NPCs are statted out though, have no fear.
Exits are given their own callouts for each level. Sweet. The bane of a module I'm running now is that I can't figure out where and how the heck all the stair, door, and level transitions connect. I've had to do some fast ad lib mapping to fix misunderstood connections. The individual maps in Ruins of the Dragon Lord are also labelled with the exact keyed locations that connect. Thanks Mongoose. Rant: this should be a mandatory design element for all modules!
This is a location based adventure. The plotline will handle all the encounters that will take PCs to 20th level, as opposed to some campaign products that require GMs to add in supplemental materials to maintain character level minimums. The PCs can enter and leave the dungeon at will during the early stages, providing lots of opportunities for rest, community roleplay, wilderness exploration, room for your own side plots, and so on. Once the party gets deep into the mountain, there's a dimensional travel restriction (i.e. certain spells will not function), so unless the PCs have razed all previous areas, retreat might be difficult or impossible, and they'll be stuck in the dungeon, adding added drama and challenge, but also turning the adventure into a hard core crawl. There are interesting environments to explore, and intelligent critters to parley with throughout, though, to keep things from degenerating into "break down the door, kill the monster, next room, repeat." There will be a lot of combat and action throughout, but I'd also like to point out that intrigue, parley, and problem solving are also possible choices.
At the end of each chapter, or level, story-based rewards are provided in the module text. These are significant-sized rewards, imho, which I feel will speed up play. They serve to ensure PCs are of appropriate level for each upcoming challenge, which is especially important in the lower levels where it might be more difficult for GMs to add extra encounters. Some GMs might not find this tolerable, but the intro text does mention undocumented and unexplored areas are optional design opportunities for creative GMs. I have not gamed this campaign, but I foresee these story rewards can make this an achievable campaign--you know, one of those campaigns that actually concludes. :) At the rate I foresee, it won't take years of real time to finish it either <coughUndermountaincough>. However, I feel the PCs will advance in level very fast. It's your call.
Quality of materials is good (glossy pages, colour maps, sturdy book binding), writing and editing is ok, art is meh. I enjoyed reading this adventure, and I will enjoy playing it, first by putting parts of it in my own campaign, and second as a potential future campaign. I like the design decisions made and I feel they've made the product more usable by GMs. The story is interesting, and the encounters, levels, and challenges are varied and should be fun.
Final score: Thumbs Up