R1, Rappan Athuk – The Dungeon of Graves: The Upper Levels
R1, Rappan Athuk – The Dungeon of Graves: The Upper Levels Capsule Review by Pookie on 04/08/01
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
d20 adventure that strives and mostly succeeds at achieving a First Edition feel.
Product: R1, Rappan Athuk – The Dungeon of Graves: The Upper Levels
Author: Bill Webb and Clark Peterson
Company/Publisher: Necromancer Games
Line: d20 System
Page count: 48
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Pookie on 04/08/01
Genre tags: Fantasy
Just a few years ago, the ‘dungeon bash’ or ‘crawl’ was most definitely out of fashion. Currently, with the resurgent popularity of the new D&D, now in its third edition, you can at least broach the subject without the possibility of being sneered at. With the large number of new scenarios that have come out for the new D&D3e of late, one has to ask if the devotee of the old dungeon crawl is being catered for?
Necromancer Games would like to think so. Their second adventure release is specifically designed as a ‘dungeon crawl’. ‘R1, Rappan Athuk – The Dungeon of Graves: The Upper Levels’, is for characters of 3rd level or greater. It is recommended that they be of 5th or more if they intend to explore the dungeon’s third or later levels. Rappan Athuk lies in Necromancer Games’ own setting, The Scarred Lands, although the specific location is not mentioned. Their first scenario, W1, The Crucible of Freya mentions Rappan Athuk, so it possible to play as a sequel to W1.
Rappan Athuk is a good-looking book, clearly written and laid out. John Massť’s cover is nice, but Brian LeBlanc’s internal art is lighter and more dynamic than we saw in The Crucible of Freya. Some may find the boxed text containing background or description of that location, difficult upon the eye, as the font is both too regular and too for the darkish grey background of the box it has been placed upon. The maps in the centre of the book, one for each of the six levels covered in Rappan Athuk, are a touch too cramped and have suffered in their reproduction by being slightly too grey.
The background to Rappan Athuk – The Dungeon of Graves, as much as it is, begins centuries before with the destruction of the Temple of Orcus by a heroic army. The surviving priests fled, followed by the army, but neither was seen again. In the last century, adventurers have ventured into the dungeons of Rappan Athuk, which is rumoured to have become another Temple to Orcus, the Demon-Prince. The legends of Rappan Athuk still continue to draw brave adventurers, and this is where the players enter, stage left.
Only the first six levels of Rappan Athuk, out of a total of twenty-seven levels and sub-levels are detailed here. The remainder will be explored in two sequels to come. It begins at ground level with the sunken graveyard and mausoleum that sits over Rappan Athuk. Note that since that the dungeon includes sub-levels, we do not actually get levels one through six, but literally the first six levels of the dungeon (ground level, then levels 1 through 3, then 3a, 4 and finally 4a.) A nice touch is that at the beginning of each level, a list of all of its basic features is described in box. This includes entrances and exits, plus any wandering monsters and other standard features.
Although this is a dungeon crawl, it is clear that the authors have given some thought to the design of Rappan Athuk, especially its ecology. Though we have yet to see the middle or lower levels of the dungeon, it is also obvious that the priests from the Temple of Orcus deep below hold a great deal of influence over the upper levels. Thus the dungeon does not have a random feel, as the priests have placed a great many of Rappan Athuk’s inhabitants themselves, in some cases, allowed them to stay. In general, the opponents are tough ones to face for the delving adventurer, but it is the individual monsters such as the skeletal warrior, the Rakshasa and the Liche that will prove the toughest to overcome. As with other third edition releases, each of these and other monsters is fully detailed as if they were player characters. The authors go further and explain in detail what their tactics would be if attacked. It is these tactics that really set these encounters apart, as they are thoroughly evil. Rappan Athuk is not an adventure to be played by the inexperienced.
Necromancer Games have lived up to their motto of ‘Third Edition Rules, First Edition Feel’. Even for fifth and higher-level characters, this is a tough adventure, though not without some reward. Role-playing is scant, but not non-existent, making this more Third than First Edition in this respect. Dungeon Masters wanting the players to get down a hole in the ground and kill things should find Rappan Athuk great fun to run, with plenty of evenings play from both this and the sequels. If the DM is looking to run this as an extended campaign, then Necromancer Games have promised to make details of the wilderness around Rappan Athuk available to download and explore from their web site.
(with thanks to Roj at Wayland's Forge)