Ravenloft: Web of Illusion (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast (Originally TSR)
Cost: $4.95 (Originally $9.95)
Page Count: 67
Release Date: 10/01/2013 (Originally 1993)
Get it Here: DNDClassics.com
Web of Illusion is one of those odd Ravenloft adventures that neither fits the mood nor theme of the campaign setting, and actually works better if used as a generic mid-level adventure for PCs. This is not the fault of the adventure’s location, as Sri Raji is one of the more unique locations in all of 2e AD&D, and the Darklord of this domain is one of the more memorable in Ravenloft. Rather, the adventure simply eschews everything that makes Ravenloft, well, Ravenloft, and instead we are given a highly generic and somewhat dull experience that just doesn’t sit well with fans of the Dread Domain, and especially with those of Sri Raji itself.
One of the big problems is that the adventure lacks everything that makes Ravenloft so unique. There is no need for fear or horror checks because nothing about the adventure is scary, spooky, creepy or foreboding. It’s your general run of the mill, “Learn about a big bad guy, enter a dungeon and kill it,” affair. That’s hardly the type of thing one thinks of in regards to Ravenloft. Oerth or Toril based adventures, sure, but not the Dread Domain. Another problem is that there really isn’t a lot of story. The adventure is literally, “You’re magically in a new location. Here’s a magical artifact that can kill the evil being that rules this land. Have at it.” Sure you get a tiny bit of explanation from a few NPCs, but the adventure is so linear and dead set on rushing you into the dungeon crawl that you don’t really get a taste of the setting. This is funny, because the adventure includes a huge section from the Darklords supplement on the background and world design of Sri Raji. Seriously, why include over five pages of background information if your adventure turns this entire country into a one shot location that players will never be able to visit again?
Another thing wrong with the adventure is that it simply refuses to ever pull the trigger on the fact that Ravenloft is a pretty evil place where one constantly has to choose between the lesser of two evils. It turns the guilds of Sri Raji from a bevy of horrible choices that control the political intrigue of the country into a simple black hat and white hat side. Sure, the white hats are all Lawful Evil, but the characterization in the adventure makes them all closer to Lawful Neutral or Chaotic Good. That’s some bad design there. As well, if players drag their feet, the DM is encouraged to run a scene where their would-be allies claim to have infected the PCs with a weretiger strain of lycanthropy. However, the adventure balks at actually doing this, having it be a trick to make players go along with the adventure story. Not only is that kind of lame, but it’s Ravenloft people. Infect those PCs! Look at Dark of the Moon. Here players ARE infected with Lycanthrophy, and it really adds a layer of tension and fear to the adventure. Not with Web of Illusion though. God forbid you actually try to fit the theme or feel of the setting.
Finally, the adventure is just too disjointed for me. It feels like two different writers with two VERY different adventure writing styles each took half of the adventure and threw it together. The first half is a bunch of barely written scenes thrown together without any real order or continuity, and the DM is supposed to make sense of them. Then the second half of the adventure is written in a completely different style and is a very dry dungeon crawl that feels hastily inserted. Web of Illusion is just NOT a good Ravenloft adventure, and it’s kind of a middle finger to the entire campaign setting.
Now you would think after all that constructive criticism that I’d give this adventure a huge thumbs down. Actually, no. As I said at the beginning of the review, Web of Illusion is far from being a good Ravenloft adventure, but it works quite well as a generic hack and slash dungeon crawl. The actual dungeon crawl part of the adventure is really well done. In fact, in terms of explaining and showing how to properly use illusion magic, Web of Illusion is almost a must read for any DM or player who uses Illusionist specialists in the slightest. Showcase layered illusion and how to craft one on top of the other or make the dispelling of an illusion trigger a new and different one is simply genius, and it’s something 99.99% of players and DMs either overlook or never even think that deeply about. The illusions are the most dangerous aspect of the dungeon, and I think anyone who plays this will walk away with a newfound respect for that type of magic. The dungeon is tough but fair and the type of monster the Darklord turns out to be is always a fun one to deal with.
So a thumb’s down as a Ravenloft experience, but a thumbs up if you look at Web of Illusion as a generic hack and slash one shot, akin to what you’d find for say, Dungeon Crawl Classics. The two ratings balance each other out, and I give this a thumbs in the middle. I can’t recommend it if you’re specifically looking to run something Ravenloft for the Halloween season. You don’t have a lot of options to choose from over at DNDClassics right now, but there are definitely better ones than Web of Illusion for showcasing the Dread Domain. As a general adventure, five bucks for a sixty-seven page adventure is a really good deal nowadays, and there’s that great showcasing of how to properly use illusion magic, so it may be worth picking this up, depending on what you are looking for. In the end, Web of Illusion proves the old adage about whether or not to buy a Ravenloft adventure: if the adventure has you killing a Darklord, you probably shouldn’t buy it.
Tags: AD&D, Dungeons & Dragons