By their end, if the player characters have played through MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall and MD3 Necromancer’s Bane, they should learned that for centuries, the Harken family has been under a curse—no male may live to see his fortieth year. Tasked to investigate the cause of the cause by Lady Karlina, the current lord’s wife, the player characters will have discovered that an ancestor was cursed for his poor treatment of the Erle Folk—the equivalent of the fey. They will have also learned that in order to lift the curse, some will need to pass through into another realm known as The Blessed Isles, and there find—or bargain—a way to have the curse lifted. This is the situation at the start of Tantalus, with the player characters ready to visit The Blessed Isles.
Alternatively, if the Dungeon Master has not run either MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall or MD3 Necromancer’s Bane, then she can still run Tantalus. It has a specific set-up in that the player characters need to be travelling from one plane to another via a portal. Then the Dungeon Master can slip this into her ongoing campaign because it does not necessarily matter where the player characters are planning to go when they slip through the portal—only the final destination matters. This is because wherever the player characters intend the portal to take them—whether that is The Blessed Isles or not—they will find themselves elsewhere…
The Blessed Isles suggests a bucolic idyll and is described as a cluster of beautiful islands in a sea of viridian blue. The player characters are to find King Lorx and seek his help in lifting the curse on the Harken family. Although this objective remains, what the player characters find on the other side of the portal is far from what they expect. It is a hellish complex of underground passageways, caverns, and worked rooms that seem to be littered with mounds of bones raked over by mini-demons and picked over by scavengers, whilst leviathan creatures slumber… Working through the relatively linear complex, the player characters will find their way to a set of docks. Docks which do not sit on a vibrant blue sea, but a vast open sky between layers of racing clouds, out of which sail ships floating in the air…
Initially, the player characters will find themselves thrown by their surroundings, which suggest somewhere dark and evil, but will ultimately require them to question some of the NPCs they encounter to find out more. What this means is that the adventure is prone to serving up the player characters with dollops of exposition rather than providing them with the clues and means to confirm where they are. The other upsetting issue for the player characters is a hangover effect from their intended destination—The Blessed Isle—and that is the confiscation of all ferrous items in their possession. Tantalus does not give any advice as to how the player characters might adapt to this.
Tonally, Tantalus feels slightly similar to the author’s Limbus Infernum, both having a weird Science Fantasy feel with elements of horror. This shifts though, in the final few pages of the scenario as the player characters come across their means of exiting the cave complex and the art shifts from the author’s more classic pen and pencils to the Manga stylings of his daughter. The shift is somewhat jarring, but that is not to say the new illustrations are bad, but rather that they are different. How far this new styling goes though, will have to wait until the publication of the sequel to Tantalus.
Roughly the second half of Tantalus is dedicated to two things. First is a full description of the cloudship The Goodship Carceron and its crew, essentially providing the Game Master with some NPCs to roleplay and help impart further information to her player characters. The second is a guide to the region that Tantalus is in and the means of travel between the various floating islands that the player characters might wants to get to aboard The Goodship Carceron. There are some notes on the deities worshipped in Tantlaus, as well as a history of the region, plus how are some of the items that the player characters are likely to have brought with them from MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall and MD3 Necromancer’s Bane will work in Tantalus.
Physically, Tantalus is a decently presented book. The artwork is excellent and it is well written. If there is an issue, it is perhaps what to do if a player character is lost or killed and that the links between the levels on the maps could have been a bit more obvious. The maps are clear and usable, but there are no deck plans of The Goodship Carceron. Hopefully they will be included in the next scenario.
Tantalus is a transitionary adventure, really lasting no more than a couple of sessions’ worth of play, and it shows. It is designed to get the player characters from the mortal realms to the other realm beyond the portal—but not too far. What stops the player characters going any further is the relatively short length of the scenario, which only brings them to the shores of what should hopefully be the next adventure. Instead of taking them further, it provides the Dungeon Master with a lot of background material that at this point is not really relevant to the scenario, but is likely to be relevant to the next. Now there is scope for the Dungeon Master to expand the scenario, but there is only a little advice on how to do so.
If the Dungeon Master has run MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall and MD3 Necromancer’s Bane, then the likelihood is that she will want to run Tantalus, even though it only continues the campaign so far and does so in an unexpected direction. As a standalone scenario, Tantalus is less useful, providing a short scenario plus background that will not be all that useful or relevant until the next part.