Rappan Athuk : The Upper Levels
Rappan Athuk : The Upper Levels Playtest Review by Paul Barnett on 12/04/01
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 3 (Average)
It's a hack and slash dungeon that offers a reasonable throwback to the old school of modules. It manages just what it says on the cover, its third edition with a first edition feel. Great web downloads are a major plus.
Product: Rappan Athuk : The Upper Levels
Author: Bill Webb and Clark Peterson
Company/Publisher: Necromancer Games
Line: 3rd edition AD&D
Cost: 7:99 UK
Page count: 47
Year published: 2001
ISBN: 1 - 58846 - 156 - 4
Playtest Review by Paul Barnett on 12/04/01
Genre tags: Fantasy
Rappan Athuk is Necromancers big one. A sprawling dungeon that attempts over it's three parts to become as big and mythical as the first edition modules of yesteryear.
They have pulled a lot of tricks with this series. It has the little banner running across the left hand top corner and has the same look and feel of a first edition module.
Sadly they picked a real stinker of a cover, the first edition pictures may not have been great but at least they had character. This is some computer coloured none sense with to much liking of the colour green.
Production quality is high, paper stock is solid, layout is readable.
They continue their online support with a password to allow you to download the wilderness section to the module. I am unsure if this is a great idea but I do like the fact you get extra pages for nothing just for visiting the site.
We get a paragraph where the writers lay their cards on the table and explain this is bash dungeon with no attempt at logic.
A rumour table follows in finest first edition style. We even get a bit about standard monsters and dungeon dressing. It's all a little bit like white plume mountain at this point.
The first level harks back to the collected temple of elemental evil mixed with the tomb of horrors. It's a little tough, more so when you have the wilderness section bolted on.
Throughout the adventure there is a helpful box out provided to tell the DM what the current level is trying to do and any important details about it. While not as clever or as stylish as Gygax's SHADOWS table system he used in Necropolis it is a welcome step forward.
There are large amounts of box out text that state the bleedin obvious or force your characters and/or monsters reactions. I suggest any stable DM do the decent thing and read the encounter before making up your own entry text to suit your party.
Each monster is provided in detail, a lot of detail, you could argue to much detail but at least it provides you with all the if's but's and maybe's you may need when you come to run the adventure.
In time we will get to see adventures where trolls are just listed as HP's (like the G series) rather than the information overload that the current third edition stuff insists on putting out.
The actual levels are a patchy affair, some are easier than others but it's clear that Bill and Clark had there tough as nails hats on when it come to the encounters. No mercy is shown, exp offered is brutally low, magic items are thin on the ground. Personally I would have preferred a real throw back adventure where I am not instructed on EXP to hand out and where treasure is in abundance, I like to DM mean and remove stuff not feel guilty and want to drop my players a 1 sword, sorry I meant a master craftsman weapon.
Some of the interesting rooms are a laugh to run and show once again that these two have a sense of humour, who can not be impressed with the dung monster.
They stole a march from adventures like D2 with little rooms sealing up real nasty beasts, theres little to no chance that the party will find these areas and even if they did they would just wind up dead, but somehow I can't help but like them.
The additional encounter you can download from the web site is also a laugh though if I was WotC I would have issued a legal letter of complaint. Being inspired is one thing, lifting whole heatedly is another.
Level 3 is really a homage to an old computer game called Dungeon Master. Worms everywhere and not a drop to drink.
The maps are the usual duds that necromancer keep bashing out. Is clear cut mapping beyond you still? Why are the numbers so hard to pick out? Why is the ground level virtually unreadable?
The line art in the module is a great step up from the crucible of Freya and they managed to draw pictures that can be used by the DM to explain encounters.
So all in all what do I think of it?
It's a hack and slash dungeon that offers a reasonable throwback to the old school of modules. It's not a classic, though the wilderness section certainly helps. On it's own it's hindered by constant reference points to modules they have yet to release or downloads they have not made available. So it manages just what it says on the cover, its third edition with a first edition feel. But this needs to work hard to get it above average, TSR excelled themselves when they released Undermountain, Rappan Athuk should aim to out do that with third edition rather than trying to emulate some of the creaky first edition cobblers they are so obviously keen on.