[Review] The Throne of Evil (AD&D 3pp); Like gargling horsepiss

[Adventure]
Throne of Evil (1984)

Stephen Bourne (Mayfair Games)
Levels 4 – 6

Throne of Evil

I’m rapidly starting to figure out that 80s era Role Aids D&D modules are very much not my thing, what with their overly loquacious introductions, adventures filled with random monsters that attack on sight and utterly pedestrian by the book encounters. And then I saw Throne of Evil. Attracted by its beautifully illustrated cover and ensnared by its promise of proper medieval adventure set in 12th century England. Kul Wahad, I said to myself. This one must surely be good!

Oh how I was forced to eat those words, choking each one down like the razor-laden turd of a Bangladeshi sperm whale…This adventure is a grinding slog of meaningless encounters. Add in perplexing interaction and politics about as complex as you are likely to find in an issue of Thor and you have a recipe for disaster. But I get ahead of myself.

The premise, which is re-iterated a startling 3 fucking times for some reason, is that it’s 12th century Britain. The adventure goes into the fucking Norman Conquest and the subsequent fall thereof, but all of this is irrelevant to the adventure, which takes place in 1140 after the worst of the conquests has already taken place.
King William the Conqueror has died. His weak son Stephen’s claim to the throne is contested by his niece Matilda and her asshole husband Geoffry of Anjou but most support goes to Stephen because he does not have a vagina. Our heroes are hired in an overly long written entry by Matilda’s retainer, Sir Thomas Louvain, to kidnap OR assasinate The Earl of March, also called the March Lord, prime retainer of Stephen and rumored to be in league with Satan himself, in exchange for a brain-melting 60.000 gp reward! You have Thou hast 14 days to get back to the Inn. And we are off!

The first inkling that this adventure was going to blow hard was the sample characters. For some reason this adventure provides you with an elf wizard, a dwarf fighter, a half elf ranger, a half-elf magic-user/thief and a fucking human cleric of Baldur with the most tepid fucking backstories I have ever seen.
Aha, I said to myself. So this is not really the type of historical fantasy where meticulous attention is paid to getting right the most minute details of the period and every deviation from written history is subtly woven into a tapestry of fact, this is more the RPGPundit type of historical fantasy where you just REPLACE LOUIS XIV WITH A FUCKING TROLL, PUT A DUNGEON NEXT TO THE LOUVRE, ATOS IS NOW A HALF ELF AND CALL IT A FUCKING SWASHBUCKLING HISTORICAL FANTASY ADVENTURE.

Now credit where it is due, the actual fucking opening of the adventure is excellent. You must ride on a path that is not often traveled to avoid the king’s men. An old man, secretly a spy for Sir Thomas, meets the PCs in the dark near the road and gives them good advice about the mission, and also tells 1 or 2 PCs that there is a traitor among them. That’s a pretty ballsy opening to pull in an adventure like this and it creates tension. This tension is IMMEDIATELY REMOVED when the adventurers are AMBUSHED BY 14 3RD LEVEL FIGHTERS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING NIGHT and EACH FIRE THREE ARROWS (SAVE VS DEX TO AVOID) BEFORE COMBAT EVEN STARTS. The old man is murdered automatically in the ambush but will give you a last bullshit cryptic “the traitor is…” before croaking, is immune to Speak with Dead because “his spirit is in Limbo” and lo and behold he just HAPPENS TO CARRY TWO RINGS OF WATERBREATHING BECAUSE IT WOULD BE HANDY LATER ON IN THE ADVENTURE.

I have a huge fucking problem with the levels of the NPCs in this adventure. Every normal guard is level fucking 4. The personal guard of The March Lord is level 6. In fact his entire adventure is brimming with high level NPCs and magic items are damned near common. 6th level Jailors, 6th level guard captains, at some point I expected the fucking cook to be 6th level too because WHY THE FUCK NOT IT’S BALANCED THAT WAY PRINCE. Level should not automatically scale with that of the PCs and level 6 personal guards had better be the Swiss Guard or the Emperor’s Praetorians or some shit. They should NOT be casually lounging in a tiny keep of the Earl of some 12th century King when people were still wiping their ass with rocks and living in houses made of shit. Also there is a monastery but you can’t do anything there and horsemen without stats will show up and waste 2 rounds of your time if you linger. I am not shitting you that’s what it says.

This adventure suffers from verisimilitude problems up the wazoo. It feels like the demo level for a crappy video game. Case in point, the PCs arrive at a waterfall at the foot of the cliff where the Earl’s Castle is located (obviously a direct approach is suicide). Now, the adventure does something clever, again, by not putting the secret entrance behind the waterfall, which is the first place you’d look. Instead they put it in the pool. What do they put in the cave? FUCKING BUGBEARS. Da fuq Throne of Evil? I always thought those were Welsh. WRONG BITCH. 12TH CENTURY ENGLAND HAS FUCKING BUGBEARS NOW.

The entrance to the cave is good, because its an underwater tunnel and you have to lift a portcullis so it feels like the entrance to an actual dungeon AND THEN FUCK YOU. A CAVE COMPLEX WITH RANDOM MONSTERS THAT ATTACK ON SIGHT AND HAVE NO REASON TO BE THERE. I sincerely wrote better adventures when I was 12.

Lizardmen (the adventure tries to trick you into believing it put thought into it by giving you cave paintings so you figure out the ancient Celts used to fight Lizardmen or some horseshit), Lurkers Above, Dire wolves, Owl Bears, Giant Spiders a Water Weird and so on and so forth. Everything attacks on sight. Sometimes the adventure places some corpses in a room warning you that there WILL IN FACT BE COMBAT AHEAD GEE THANKS GAME and at times it will throw in a Beaker People cave painting or a Celtic sacrificial Site to trick you into thinking it has depth. Or at least that’s what it once was, the Adventure incessantly reminds you like you give a fuck. The two encounters that are acceptable in this section are a hidden slab underneath which is a magic axe which will trigger its 3 wraith protectors (thus fucking the party super hard), and a ghost knight that has been crucified to the wall with two spears, warning of great evil. You can at least Speak with Dead the fucker to figure out what the deal is. The boss on this level is a Salamander worshipped by Lizard men, which is made extra stupid by adding multiple Salamanders on the random encounter table, thereby negating its importance as the most formidable antagonist in the cavern. I’m not too miffed about the Cave map btw, it’s actually quite nonlinear.

After you get through Cave A you must climb through a waterfall into Cave B, again, a very nice nonstandard entrance and something to be commended. The treasure is sort of standard but the game gives you the odd treasure map or buried box of Celt Treasure to keep the players engaged, and I even liked the unique ring with Celt Runes on it that allows you to cast a sort of flame strike spell. There is another bullshit reason why there are so many fucking monsters in this section as well.

After you have killed Giant Kobolds…Da Fuq? What does that even mean? WHAT DOES THAT MEA-

-Hawk Men that attack on sight with shocking grasp spells on their swords, there are some Spiders and the Kobolds apparently erected some Portcullis to keep them out otherwise someone will steal their chest containing 1500 gp worth of various jeweRAAAAAAAAAA-

-and did you know btw that the Hawk Men killed the Giant Weasel because they were looking for the Celt treasure and the portcullis was originally erected by Saxons back when it was above the water level to seal off these accursed caveRAAAAAAAAAA-

-For a brief moment the sun peaks through the clouds. In the ceiling of the cavern is a well entrance, but it’s a 120 foot climb. There are different chances of detection based on whether you go by day or at night. You arrive in the center of the fortress, but here too you have a different chance of getting detected if you use…say, a thief to scout ahead of the party, or are wearing heavy armor. This is, at least, decent design. The keep is tiny as fuck and has approximately 20 rooms and 2 floors with a total of 21 guards of which 14 will be on duty at any time which is ridiculously little for an Earl but whatever, at least it allows you to pick them off and throw them down the well Metal Gear Solid style, and there are rooms like kitchens, barracks and storerooms where you could conceivably listen at the door. Guards might not immediately sound the alarm and you could maybe disguise yourself so this section is NOT terrible.

This section is ruined by the fantasy elements. I would have bought perhaps 1 or 2 fantastical creatures within the keep, but Throne of Evil keeps fucking with you and overstaying its welcome. Wyverns fly over the keep, that’s fine. That could be classic, sort of faery-tale like and mysterious. But there is also an evil priest of Loki with Frost Giants and Winter Wolves there. Da fuq? There is an Ogre, A FUCKING OGRE, working in the kitchens. Why?!? A sword in the main hall will summon a ghost that demands revenge on his killer, but the sword is actually a berserker sword (I kind of dig that one).

The adventure chickens out by giving us a jail cell but making everyone in the jail cell completely unsuitable for combat and throwing in a minstrel that will provide non-information in song form if you FUCKING PAY HIM, HE HAS THE AUDACITY TO ASK THAT YOU PAY HIM. A servant offers to help you out and also, I think, solicits one of the male PCs for some dirty dirty middle-ages sex. Ugh, what else can I say. The NPCs are really boring but they did put an Anti-Paladin in there, which you don’t see every day, and the March Lord himself (a human Ftr/Magic user with something called a Hose of Speed, presumably because that is what you will need to enjoy this adventure) will surrender if he is vanquished and attempt to bargain with the characters, offering them 15.000 gp if they ransom him to the King instead. The central NPC reacts appropriately to any hostage-taking.

Arguably this is where the adventure is at its strongest. The Guards are NOT morons and will in fact pursue and respond if you take the Earl hostage, there are clues IN the keep that Sir Thomas was once in the employ of the Earl and is a total asshole that plans to murder the PCs once they have the Earl and the dilemma is actually interesting because its not a moral dilemma. It is more a question of who the hell do you trust? There are some decent resolutions and some terrible resolutions that end up with the PCs being shot at by 15 men with arrows that have just murdered a village so they could use it for a ambushing site. What particular road you take might actually influence the way the adventure runs, but if your PCs were expecting a fat payoff they will be sure to be dissapointed. It’s ironic that ransoming the March guy actually pays off the best, but leaves them to be pursued by 20 4th level fighters led by an Angry Marchlord.

It just strikes me that another treacherous huntsman with an arrow of fighter/magicuser slaying also has Hose of Speed, which cannot be a coincidence but I fail to connect the dots.

Anyway, the adventure is a fucking slog in the beginning, its good entrance design, old man introduction and well-spelunking sections notwithstanding. The keep infiltration section is a much stronger section and at various points actually starts to resemble an adventure. For an adventure that labels itself as a chance for roleplaying and intrigue there is a remarkable amount of slogging in the opening sections, with only the Marchlord adding something actually resembling intrigue.

Pros: Castle infiltration section is not too bad. The odd inspired magic item. Last section has roleplaying and treachery and thus the players might actually enjoy themselves. Decent maps.

Cons: Historical in name only. Blatantly video-gamey item and enemy placement. A slog fest for the most part, with bullshit ambushes to boot.

Final Verdict: You have too much to live for to do this to yourself and others. If you just want a good infiltration adventure I recommend Temple of the Frog, X5 Temple of Death or The City of Skulls. The fact it manages to turn a complete nosedive into a grueling, drawn out 30-degree crash is no small consolation. It’s not the fucking worst but it’s damn close. 3 out of 10.


13 thoughts on “[Review] The Throne of Evil (AD&D 3pp); Like gargling horsepiss

  1. Gracious. That sounds like an unmitigated heap of toss; as though a numpty flicked merrily through the Monster Manual over his morning wank, and included every beast upon which a glob of jism did alight. It’s like the rubbish early Fighting Fantasy books but longer and not pitched at eight year olds.

    For other, better FANTASY SWASHBUCKLER TIME may this correspondent present THE BLACK ARROW, a Robin Hood style mystery with hostages, romance, and a sassy bandit queen? It can be found in the pages of your common or garden Apocrypha (seven Cubicle shillings have been deposited in my account, you say?) and should convert to D and/or D with the minimum of fuss if one is a Smart Guy and Mathematician who knows how many twenties make a hundred.

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    1. [Pile of wank]

      Role Aids thus far has not been treating me kindly. It’s almost a cliché of what old adventures were supposed to be like. They should have just changed the name to Aids and be done with it already.

      [Black Arrow]

      One moment Guv’nor. Pour me pint and hold me sheperd’s pie. Apocrypha had some other Warhammer Fantasy adventures I was unaware of? I know how to play it now and it’s harder to read then to play I’d Imagine but fuck it that might be good.

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      1. [Apocrypha]

        I shit you not when I say that these books are full of good stuff. Rough Night at the Three Feathers tends to receive the bulk of attention and praise from yr. Oldhammer melt but let it not outshine the other material on offer, some of which is also quite satisfactory and arguably better when liberated from the false ‘campaign’ premise offered by original publication in The Restless Dead.

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      2. [Apocrypha]

        I’ll put it on the burner after I cover Enemy Within. I think I need to do some space shit in between, I’m getting elfgame fatigue. But fuck it, that was useful commentary, the best kind of commentary.

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      3. If you want a real change of scenery, help me review the Giovanni Chronicles. I’d be interested in how an avowed enemy of Swine such as yourself perceives them since WoD people have generally come round to the idea that they’re shit.

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      4. [Giovanni Chronicles]

        Challenge Accepted! I have a close and personal friend that is into WoD and has a shitload of books so it shouldn’t be hard. PM me about the reviewing details so we can co-ordinate and let’s get it started.

        I think a big problem would be that I have no baseline for WoD, having only read the introductionary adventure to 2e, the WoD Tomb of Horrors and the dreaded Blood Bound so my perspective would be that of an outsider only, but that might make it good!

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      5. Your perspective would be that of a Man who Knows Modules and what makes a good one. I would be providing the WoD Shill perspective. I also have access to the volumes in question, no close and personal friends required.

        (What’s this ‘PM’ shit? I’ll email you, as God and Rein Hagen intended. Think I still have yer address.)

        Liked by 1 person

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