The Last Dance
The Last Dance Capsule Review by Spencer M. Lease on 17/08/02
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
A strange journey to the end of an era may provide fun for players and DMs alike - if it's performed properly.
Product: The Last Dance
Author: Chris Aylott
Company/Publisher: Atlas Games
Page count: 40 pp
Year published: 2001
Comp copy?: yes
Capsule Review by Spencer M. Lease on 17/08/02
Genre tags: Fantasy
We seem to have trouble believing that the world we live in now is in many ways as good as (or better than) it has ever been. We tend to reduce our ancestors to archetypes, throw history into shades of black and white. We see darkness, yes - the Inquisition springs immediately to mind. Yet we also see light, and quite a lot of it at that. We speak in glowing terms of the glory of Rome, the wonders of the Renaissance, the "brief, shining moment" of King Arthur's Camelot which may or may not have any historical basis to speak of. The concept of the golden age fascinates us, and countless stories through the centuries have exploited that fascination. So, too, does this adventure tap into such an age - yet here we are shown its tragic end.
Centuries prior to the beginning of the adventure, there was a kingdom known as Dayvos, populated by a form of humanity greater than the race with which we are familiar. These were the High Men, and in his time their last king made peace with the orcs of the era, who were to contemporary orcs as the High Men were to those who would follow them. This covenant was to be sealed by a marriage between the orcish chieftain's son and the High Men's Crown Princess, heir to the Dayvosian throne. Unfortunately, treachery from within - and the mistakes made in the execution of said treachery - caused it all to come crashing down. The kingdom was torn apart in a night, and decades of chaos and strife followed.
So the legend goes.
The adventure begins when our heroes meet a peculiar figure on the road - a jester at the Dayvosian court who saw and heard too much and...but that would be telling. Suffice to say he is aware of what is going on, and does what he can to aid the PCs before attempting to lead them to a sort of mystical reenactment of that fateful night so many years ago. Soon they find themselves at the ball celebrating the betrothal of the Princess and the chieftain's son, and must navigate stray magics, court intrigue and other obstacles if they have any hope of resolving the situation and escaping with their lives.
I am reluctant to reveal any details about this adventure because frankly - it's the sort of thing you should discover for yourself. As always, I shall endeavor to cover the key points without spoiling it too badly.
The thing I like about this adventure is the fact that everything is covered. Some, for example, may wonder how the PCs can possibly communicate with people who lived centuries ago, and presumably spoke very different languages. More than half a page is devoted to answering this very question. A full page (or very nearly so) is devoted to the "rules" of Dayvosian formal dance - something which (again, without saying too much) may become quite relevant to the PCs.
On a similar note - there's something for everyone here. Intrigue? Got it. Roleplaying opportunities? Plenty. Monster bashing? There's some of that, too. This is, all in all, a fairly well-rounded adventure.
I must say that I am fascinated by the concept of High Men. The concept of nobler ancestors, as I said previously, is nothing new; but it is not often found in fantasy role-playing games - at least not in my experience, and not in the case of humanity. Men are seen as a younger, somewhat inferior race, dwarfed by older races such as elves and...well...dwarves. Yes, in many settings it will be their "destiny" to overtake the world, and they have often already enjoyed some success, but it is the elder races who have had their time in the sun. Here we see a setting in which humanity, or some form of it, was an elder race of sorts, and I find that quite refreshing.
Finally, let me just say that this thing is fun to read. Very few adventures manage that, but this one does. It's a good thing, too, because it can be very complicated in spots - DMs will want to read through it carefully a few times before trying to run it.
All praise aside...I honestly hate to criticize such a great module, but I do have one gripe: the primary ending. To be fair, an alternative is provided, but - well, let's leave it at this. If the PCs succeed, according to the default conclusion, the course of history is drastically changed. This would be fine, except that virtually every other part of the adventure implies, to me, that the people the PCs encounter are dead. They show outward signs of the methods of their demise. The scenes the PCs take part in appear to me to be shadows, recreations of the past; yet the main ending would imply that it is the past itself. As I consider the matter, I can think of some possible explanations for this; but I did not see a connection offhand.
As I said, however, I am reluctant to level any criticism here - such gripes seem almost petty. This adventure is a fantastic journey. While its complexity may make some groups uncomfortable, I would highly recommend it to anyone who will not be daunted by such things.