Rise of the Drow Trilogy Bundle
Publisher: Adventuresaweek.com, LLP
Page Count: 457
Release Date: 12/12/2012
Get It Here: RPGNOW
One of the big complaints I get from players and GMs is that Drow aren’t scary anymore. I beg to differ. Drow can be pretty scary and one helluva threat to the party, and civilization as a whole, if you handle it right. On the one hand, we’ve got Drizzt and Company showing us there can be good Drow, but in those same books you’ve got this whole underground civilization that would kill you and sacrifice you and not think twice about it, because you’re just a surface dweller and of no consequence to the grand scheme of things. Paizo decided to try and make Drow scary again with their Second Darkness Adventure Path, and largely succeeded, although like many of their early adventure paths, it can be rather rail-roady for the players and doesn’t give much wiggle room for the GM either. Rise of the Drow Trilogy takes some cues from Second Darkness as far as making Drow scary and a credible threat, but also goes the route of giving your players options like you’d find in a BioWare RPG, where you have different paths you can take, and each one has certain consequences tied to them all, the while providing a great way to kill a few weekends and weeknights around the tabletop.
The Trilogy itself is comprised of the Adventure a Week modules Descent into the Underworld, Scourge of Embla, and Usurper of Souls. Yes, you can buy all three separate, but it will cost you $10 more. You also get a few bonus goodies in the zip file I’ll detail in a minute. This set of adventures starts for characters level 6 and ends with them around level 15. I actually recommend starting at level 8 if you’re only running with 4 people and definitely using the fast experience progression with Pathfinder, as that’s closest to Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 character progression. While this isn’t as fleshed out as Second Darkness was, it’s a pretty decent romp into Drow territory that gives your players more options to do it their way without leaving the GM scrambling.
Descent into the Underworld finds your players in a small town being confronted by a dwarf with a problem… a Drow problem. He tries to convince them to come with him into the ground, below decks, so to speak, to help rid his city of the problem. The Drow have been taking people and territory and have been putting the pinch on the Dwarven city he’s from. They’re panicking, as well they should be, and need outside help. They’re traders and craftsman for the most part, not warriors. From there, it’s into a dungeon crawl that can be pretty much as long or short as the players want to make it. The entrance into the Underworld, or Underdark if you’re dropping this in the Forgotten Realms, is in a ruined tower that has some history. A dark history. A history involving a mage, slaves, a dragon and now, lots of very upset undead. After the undead is a brief stint that leads you into the Dwarven city in the next module.
Scourge of Embla details the Dwarven city for when your players arrive, as well as events there that really help mold what your players’ options are and what they might end up doing. The Drow are starting to make their move on the city, but is a full retaliation what’s needed, or a more subtle back way in? A lot more of the background information can be gleaned here for your players, and it definitely gets them more invested, being more than just a dungeon crawl like in the first module.
Usurper of Souls takes into account what the players may or may not have done to get into the city, and gives them options when they get there on how to deal with the Drow, with other events going on that might spur them into action in different ways. There are some definite roleplay opportunities that can really sink or save your players here if they choose to take them. The leader of the Drow city has been leading this expansion for a reason, and not all of the Drow living there agree with what she’s been doing. Drow politics at its finest here. This adventure can lead to a lot of fame for them afterwards, or not much at all except the simple satisfaction of a job well done and a full coin purse. Most of what’s presented here can be handled by a good, and even fairly inexperienced, group of players. There are some things that they won’t be able to deal with right away if they head certain ways, like, say, an adult dragon in the first module when they’re way under-level if they go off the beaten path. That might be too rough a fight, but it is also something they might stumble across as opposed to jumping into it as part of getting through the area, and they’ll have plenty of opportunities to not get involved until they’re stronger.
On top of a great story, some well done play options, and fantastic artwork, the layout is really decent as well. The initial focus is on the story and getting your players through the adventure. The stat blocks are at the back of the module, but at each instance where you’d need them in the PDF is a link to the monster that your players are facing and you can choose which flavor, Pathfinder or 3.5, that you need there, and it goes right to it. If you’re running off the PDF instead of printed, this is a nice time saver. There’s a full bookmarked index to take you back to where you were as well, since Adobe doesn’t make PDFs work like web browsers. The artwork, for the most part, is fantastic. There were a few odd choices, but the maps looks great and the artwork for enemies and NPCs is consistently good.
The maps that are included are fantastically done and fit very well with the material. They’ll be easy to translate over to a battle map if you have one, or you can always print out the player versions of the map to give them, and the same goes for the over-arching world maps. Speaking of printing, if you have the inclination, there are â€˜printer-friendly’ versions of each module included that wipe out a lot of the color on each page but leave it in the artwork and maps, so you don’t go through a color cartridge if you print it. If you do it on a single color printer it’ll still look decent. While the page count is a bit daunting, a good chunk of that is stat blocks which, if you’re running just one game, you can cut in half by only printing the game format you need. In fact, I’d go so far as to say almost half of the material you’re getting is stat blocks for either of the two games and NPCs. That’s a lot of stats.
I mentioned extras earlier. Outside the PDFs, they include separate image files for each of the maps, image files of major NPCs that you can print out, the print-friendly versions of the PDFs of both the main trilogy plus the Mushroom mini-game, and a dungeon randomizer in Excel format built to help you run an Underdark or Underworld adventure with random encounters. If you’re not keen on giving players maps with numbers on them, you can print those out too and keep them guessing. It’s really good stuff.
Even if you have no intention of running this, taking parts of it and using those in other campaigns would be an option. A mapped Drow and Dwarven city are nice to have, along with personalities and NPCs to populate them. Don’t forget the crumbled undead infested tower in the first module, a fully fleshed out settlement above ground and the Drow Spider temple in the third as well. The included Giant Mushroom harvesting mini-game is kind of interesting, and is also in the set as a separate printable piece. Also, what would a module be without a few new monsters and a bonus for interested players and willing GMs as well? All in all, it’s a great package, and if you’re so inclined, there’s a print package that had a whopping Kickstarter that will be available outside of the PDF medium. I’ll stick with the PDF, but for those that like hardcover and bound, that option is sure to please. While I don’t think this is the be all and end all of Drow modules, it is a decent one that not only gives your players some real options built in, but also can be quite a bit of fun and is designed with ease of use in mind.