Saturday, February 7, 2009

Review: M3, Twilight Calling

M3: Twilight Calling
D&D Master Game, Levels 30-35
By Tom Moldvay

This is not a good module.

Here's an initial taste: The best part of the module is the title and the cover art -- a massively elaborate castle/citadel, floating on an asteroid-like crag over an endless abyss. It has scores of towers, turrets, and buttresses, each dozens of stories tall; a truly amazing fantasy locale. This is the location of the climax of a dimension-spanning adventure, where the PCs finally have a showdown with a millenia-old imprisoned evil sorcerous alien race.

Once you get there, you find that the front gate is a normal, locked wooden door -- and the module assumes that the only resource the PCs have to get in is to pick the lock. When you get inside, you find that the entire setting has just three (yes, 3) encounter areas. To quote the module text, the rationale for this is that, over the years, "As their numbers dwindled, they sealed off most of the castle (magically filling in the open areas with solid rock)." Man, what a gyp.

Okay, now let's start at the beginning. We establish that there's an ancient sorcerous dinosaur-like race called the Carnifex who were so dangerous that the gods removed them to a prison plane thousands of years ago. There's a hazy setup whereby the Immortal villain Alphaks decides to trick the PCs into releasing them, when they don't really need to. However, we never hear about Alphaks again and by the end of the module we indeed find the Carnifex about to invade the PC's home world, so they really do need to confront and stop them at just that time.

There's two overall parts to this module. Part I is called "The Seven Realms". In order to get to the prison realm, the PCs need seven key items, each held in a special pocket universe. These are reached through a Stonehenge-like edifice in the Broken Lands, each henge color-coded with a rainbow hue (and how many times have you seen that).

Although the realms can be entered in any order, each realm by itself is entirely linear, being a series of railroaded encounters -- between 7 and 3 encounters in each dimensional realm (dwindling in the amount of detail as you get further into the module). Most of the time, the encounters are just a single monster that jumps up out of nowhere and attacks. I counted at least 3 times where the setup was, quote, "[the monster] will immediately attack the characters, giving them just enough time to draw their weapons." (Yes, those exact same words are duplicated several times.)

Part II is "Carnifex Castle", which I basically described at the start of this review. The three encounter areas are a combat with a bunch of high-powered guardian undead, a corridor with a bunch of traps, and the Carnifex shrine. It's a bit unclear what order they're supposed to be in, because the text and maps for the areas come in different orders.

Again, the encounters a very programmed, with tiny little gestures attempting to act like the whole thing isn't totally linear. There's a horn at the gate that pulls one monster out of one encounter, which is then replaced by a different monster. In the combat zone there's a bunch of pillar/walls set up to little effect. The trap zone has traps like a pit of poison barbecue sauce (no, I'm serious -- because the Carnifex are hungry carnivores, get it?), a teleporter into a giant meat grinder, a "bakery walls" heat trap, etc., etc. Then at the end you fight 4 Carnifex wizard/clerics, and also the PCs get duplicated and have to fight themselves (ever seen that?). At that point they have to jump through the Carnifex's attack gate as overwhelming numbers run in from a nearby barracks living area or something, and of course the whole millenia-old castle collapses right at that moment.

This module is definitely the worst of the Master-level series, and it feels rushed and basically "phoned in". There's very little in the way of interesting, novel encounters to recommend it (there's one encounter with two black dragons trying to mate, so the male attempts to defeat the PCs in as showy a fashion as possible, the only scene that struck me as halfway clever). Areas are misnumbered and out-of-sync between map and text. The setup is poor, the planar realms are vague and uninspiring, the encounters are generally a railroaded sequence of solo monster attacks. There are no new spells or magic items, and even the arch-villain race of Carnifex are lacking a monster description entry! If you're looking for old D&D modules to pick up, this should be among the last of the publications that you consider.

1 comment:

  1. Daaaamn...
    The negative ramifications for an adventurer stumbling upon two dragons"in flagrante delicto" boggle the mind. That's an epic can of whoopass you just opened, Frodo...

    That being said, being generally Lawful Good as a DM, I don't think I'd ever spring that kind of thing on my players. Still, damn...