Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tommy's Take on The Beast That Waits

The Beast That Waits is a new Swords & Wizardry adventure by Three Sages Games. I am not a Swords & Wizardry guy. However, I am a D&D 5e guy, and I have learned - from personal experience - that conversions to 5e are pretty simple...so I'm going to be looking at this through that lens.

ETHICS IN GAME JOURNALISM: I was comped a copy of this for review, and there are affiliate links in this review that, if used, could provide me with store credit to RPGNow. Also, I previously had a professional relationship with the writer and editor, when I worked for Savage Mojo.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Beast That Waits is a pretty lean 52 pages, and is both a setting book and adventure, meant to be used with Swords & Wizardry. It's $6 in PDF format at RPGnow. Set in the Hamlet of Graven, the book is divided into seven locations and four appendices.

The first section is The Grimwood, a region formerly known as The Greenwood until bad things moved in, and the presence of those bad things is now choking off the town. Four encounter tables are provided: Two on the road, two off the road, with a daytime and night time version of each. In a nice touch, a number of the encounters are presented as unique individuals (like Gurt the Ogre), rather than just sacks of hit points and experience. In addition to a bandit crew in the area, the PCs could encounter a ranger and a dryad who are trying to prevent the forests from getting worse.

The Mill Bridge and The River are generally a lot safer, though not without their own hazards, and have their own random encounter tables. My favorite here is the possibility to stumbling upon a peaceful pseudodragon at war with imps, giving the PCs the chance to intervene.

The Village Commons is set up a little differently: Instead of the standard random encounter lists, it breaks down the six major places to visit in the Common, such as the tavern, which has its own encounter table (such as the ranger from the woods, who has come into town for a respite). A few NPCs have their own agendas that can coincide with the PCs' agendas as well...and watch out for the creepy sheriff and his creepier sidekick.

The families in The Pasture and The Farmland each get a paragraph apiece...complete with an "abandoned farmstead" with some decidedly evil squatters now.

The Umber Hills are overrun with undead, as well as cat-like hunters and the titular "Beast That Waits". It's also home to the duril mines, which have gone unworked since the hills became overrun. Folks in town might have a vested interest in supporting adventurers willing and able to clear the hills.

Graven Keep lies in the Hills, and is home to Baron Graven, but no one has seen him in three years, and the Sheriff runs things in his stead. Presumably the PCs will make their way there and, hopefully, get in...but it won't be a tea party waiting. There are some nice connections to what's happening elsewhere in the area, and potential for a very memorable encounter with the Baron.

The Duriman Mines also rest in the Hills, and will pretty much have to be visited if the troubles in the region are going to be put to rest. This section breaks out into a full blown dungeon crawl, as the PCs delve deep into the mines..,and find something unusual long since buried...and the source of all the undead (including The Beast That Waits).

Appendix 1 pretty much lays out campaign assumptions, with the setting, the rules, the number of players, how magic is meant to work a little differently than standard D&D clones, a little advice on scaling, that sort of thing.

Appendix II delves into the secrets of the setting, providing some great hooks that can be used to flesh the region and the NPCs out.

Appendix III is more random tables, including weather, names and gossip.

Appendix IV is the bestiary, featuring the cat-like Gaugurs (complete with rules for playing them as PCs), along with a few other entries.

SIX POINT SUMMARY

- I love random tables. Random encounter tables, weather tables, name tables, gossip tables? Awesome.

- A very interesting structure, with conditions on "clearing" each section of the map, with the PCs often being better off finding the root source of the trouble in each area, rather than hunting down the different minions.

- Some great layers are present in the area. Sure, you can "just" deal with the ghost on the road...or you can find out why she's there...and STILL not know everything (relevant to the game) that there is to know about her.

- This is very much a sandbox, and one that the author tried to pepper with enough material and hooks to help your players bite on.

- If you don't know anything about the world of Alia-Wor, it's not a big deal. I could easily see how one could fit this into the Forgotten Realms, for instance, and if my 5e group hadn't already hit level 9, I probably would. There's always the next campaign...

- The art is good, but perhaps a bit cartoonish. Your mileage may vary on how well it fits the tone of the area and adventure.

A very good product that reminds me of the output from Small Niche Games, which I am a huge fan of. It would take very little effort to turn this into a multisession campaign (or at least mini campaign), with the sandbox feel and the various plot layers that can be peeled away for sessions.

I won't sit here and pretend to know what is, or is not, good "old school"...but I know what I like, and I liked this..a bit more than I expected, even. Worth getting if you want a low level sandbox campaign with a slightly horror feel...and don't worry, most of you can convert it to your favorite D&D version (maybe even your favorite system) pretty easily.