Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Tuesday 17 May 2016

Out of the Sands, into the Fire...

Tales from the Sands is a supplement for Hellfrost: Land of Fire, the Arabian Nights style campaign setting published by Triple Ace Games for use with Savage Worlds. It collects four scenarios written for slightly experienced player characters that have previously been available only as a PDF titles. Written by the designer of the Hellfrost and Hellfrost: Land of Fire, Paul ‘Wiggy’ Wade-Williams, they see the heroes uncover a strange new cult, find evidence of an old one, go in search of legend, and stop the ‘Land of Fire from going up, well, in flames… 

In doing so, they draw from material previously presented in various supplements for Hellfrost: Land of Fire, including  Realm Guide #11: The Grazelands, Region Guide #11: Ertha’s Realm, and whilst they will be useful in running the scenarios in this anthology, they are not absolutely necessary. The GM will require Realm Guide #5: The Southern Ocean to effectively run the third adventure, ‘The Last Voyage of Sinbad’. The quartet requires characters of both Novice and Seasoned Ranks.

The collection opens with ‘The Golden Queen’, in which an all too curious scholar comes to the attention of a misguided priestess who has subverted a cult devoted to an aspect of Ashtart. Unfortunately, the scholar also happens to be the player characters’ employer and now her attentions are turned to them… Where this adventure shines is in the application of its theme—bees and honey—and its subversion of that theme. This leads to some delightfully horrific moments, such as the birth of giant bees a la Alien and facing the mellified dead, zombies preserved in honey. The adventure’s dungeon continues this theme, but feels somewhat linear as it forces the adventurers down certain paths. Nevertheless, the background to this scenario feels well-researched and the theme is well handled throughout—enough to give the heroes melissophobia.

In ‘Darkness at Darshab’, the heroes come upon a village that is slowly retreating into sullen wariness and distrust as a horrid cult subverts the inhabitants. Villages falling prey to a ghastly cult is a gaming cliche, although it can be well done, as in N1, Against the Cult of the Reptile God for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition. This adventure though comes with a set of reasonable hooks to get the heroes to the village and once there, presents an array of NPCs to interact with and acquire clues from. There are ways in which this scenario can go wrong during this investigative phase, but eventually the player characters will learn of the real threat behind the village’s malaise. This involves a descent into an underground lair that is not a dungeon in the classic worked stone style, but a system of rough, often wet caves. The scenario makes great play of the differences between the two and the challenges involved in delving into territory where your foe knows the terrain and the darkness far better than the heroes do. Thus ‘Darkness at Darshab’ is a scenario of two halves, both of which are really rather good.

The chance to meet one of the land’s greatest heroes, a figure out of legend, is what drives the heroes to undertake ‘The Last Voyage of Sindbad’. This is an island-hopping quest to open a portal and hopefully rescue the great sailor and adventurer. It is also an excuse to present four different mini-adventures on four different islands, each time facing different threats and challenges. They include stopping an island of Orc raiders and their masters; discovering that sometimes even true love can be too much; helping to lift a curse from a young lady who rejected the advances of a sinister suitor; and discovering an ancient, long forgotten ancient cult. Each of the little adventures is a relatively straightforward affair and can be played in any order. To make the scenario a little more interesting, the GM is given a set of optional encounters that can be used to add colour to the player characters’ voyages. The climax of the adventure is a little underwhelming, but each of the mini-adventures is decent. Maps of each of the islands would have been nice.

Lastly, as the lands seems to warm unpleasantly in ‘Reign of Fire’, the heroes find that weather seems to have turned against the land with clouds from which fall droplets of fire and that creatures of fire—long ago pushed back into the mountains and the hottest of plains—are once again abroad. Unfortunately the local ruler seems concerned with other things, such as a flying carpet race, but if the heroes enter the race and win, then perhaps they will gain his attention? ‘Reign of Fire’ harks back to the War of Copper Jars when the prophet Suleiman the Great overthrew the great Jinn and bound them in copper jars. Perhaps the great Jinn that once enslaved the now free peoples have escaped and plan to rule again? There are some fun moments in ‘Reign of Fire’, such as the flying carpet race and encounters with less inimical Jinn that will firmly put the heroes outside of their comfort zone. In some ways it does feel a little short though, as if it should be the climax of a great campaign, ending it does with a big ‘big boss’ fight in a set of underground volcanic caverns.

Physically, Tales from the Sands is, unfortunately, slightly disappointing. Although well written, the collection suffers from some really poor editing in places and the maps are a little dark to be presented in greyscale.

Unlike the various Realm Guides, none of the four scenarios in Hellfrost: Land of Fire – Tales from the Sands is available individually. Only in this collection. Nevertheless, which ones are worthy of the GM’s attention? Simply NF3, The Golden Queen and NF2, Darkness at Darshab stand out as the better half, but then SF1, The Last Voyage of Sindbad and SF2, Reign of Fire are far from terrible scenarios. If there is anything missing from the collection it is a guide to running them as a campaign, though again, ‘The Golden Queen’ and ‘Darkness at Darshab’ are probably easier to run after the other than the second pair of scenarios. Together though, Hellfrost: Land of Fire – Tales from the Sands is a solid quartet of scenarios for the Hellfrost: Land of Fire setting.


Triple Ace Games will be at UK Games Expo.

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