Gallery of Evil (Paizo 2007)
By Stephen S. Greer
AD&D 3.5 edition for level 8 characters
The great city of Absalom is known as a center for trade, education, and art. Inside the Ivy District reside dozens of famous artists, but one has the talent to bring his paintings to life and use paint to conjure terrible monsters bent on destruction. Can the player characters stop the mad painter before he perfects his art?
The adventure is 32 pages long, cover price of $12.99 American.
- 1 page of credits/legal/advertising
- 2 pages of adventure overview and plot development
- 5 pages of city/district background
- 19 pages of city adventure, mostly taking place inside buildings
- 5 pages of new monsters and magic items
- 2 pages of maps (Located on the inside covers)
The adventure is designed for 4 characters of 8th level. They should reach 10th level after the conclusion of the adventure.
Depending on how thoroughly your party explores or how mission oriented they are, some encounters will be bypassed. In my estimation, there are:
- Approximately 11 combat encounters
- Approximately 6 non-combat or negotiable encounters. (most of these are one extended "party" scene)
- Approximately 3 environment encounters (traps, trick doors, things to examine). There are several other minimally furnished guest rooms, closets, etcetera.
In the adventure, a wronged artist takes revenge on his critics and thieves by having magically trapped paintings delivered to his enemies. The first victim is a friend of the party, and the party must chase the messenger and try to prevent additional deaths and figure out who sent the trapped paintings. The first half of the adventure is an event-based (linear) chase. The second half of the adventure is an exploration of a mansion and a confrontation with the artist.
The first half of the adventure is very strong, with wildly entertaining encounters. The theme of painting-based monsters makes for mysterious and interesting encounters. The second half of the adventure seems to bog down with combat encounters. There are nearly 5 pages of setting material at the end of the adventure that describe the city district; these pages have nothing to do with the adventure. Some of the repetitive combats in the manor could have been removed, along with the setting material, and this would have been an outstanding 24 page adventure. It really feels padded out at 32 pages, and suffers from lack of focus at the end.
The vast majority of combat is against creatures that are immune to critical hits. Rogue players are at a disadvantage. The very first encounter is listed as EL8, but is actually EL11--this is possibly the deadliest encounter in the adventure.
I don't give much weight to text density and cost per page... I'd rather pay a lot for a small clever mystery than pay a little for a huge repetitive monster bash.
I don't give much weight to new monsters, prestige classes, and magic items... they can add a little variety to an adventure, but to me they are minor decoration.
1. Interesting and varied encounters (I look for unique encounters, allowing for a variety of role and roll playing.): (3/5)
There are some very interesting encounters, especially during the chase scenes in the first half of the adventure. The showpiece of the adventure is a crowded ballroom, where a trapped painting is about to release mayhem on the drunken revelers. The player characters must negotiate the crowd and try to prevent the trapped from triggering. The player characters must navigate such entertaining hazards as clumsy drunks, overly amorous guests, and guests who assume the party is the "entertainment".
As a design decision, the huge ballroom was plotted out with various encounters specified on a battle-grid. If you try to run the encounter by-the-book, you’ll end up with a lot of nitpicky interruptions, as each character tries to move their 6 squares, and finds themselves interrupted with mini-encounters. The mechanics of playing these encounters on a grid really distracts from the scene. I think it would be better for the GM just to run the encounters one after another without bothering with the combat grid. Crowded rooms do not work well with the 3.5 D&D ruleset.
There is a decent encounter where the party catches up to the messenger, and finds the messenger being attacked by an invisible stalker. The party must decide whether to save the person they have been pursuing, or whether to join the invisible stalker in killing the messenger.
There are a few encounters that take place when creatures emerge from paintings. There is at least one encounter in which the party may enter a painting (sort of a "light" planar hop). I would prefer to have seen more really interesting encounters inside of paintings and the opportunities for fantastic landscapes therein.
The villain uses a minor artifact painting to generate alter-egos, and the party must fight each of the alter-egos in turn. It seems like an excuse to pad-out the adventure with additional combat. I might have preferred to see some sort of nod to the portrait of Dorian Grey, or something like a lich’s phylactery in which the villain has his soul in a painting, and the party must discover it.
At the end of the adventure, there are some repeat encounters with groups of "painted servants" that add nothing to the adventure.
The theme of paintings was very interesting, and this could have been a brilliant adventure. What I would like to have seen was really pushing this theme to its limit, and getting very creative with encounters. I would like to have seen encounters where the characters can use the paint to modify an encounter… like changing a painting of a fiend to a harmless animal before engaging it. It just seems like there was so much more that could be done with a "painting" themed adventure than what we have here.
I would like to have seen "Marvelous Pigments" make an appearance in the adventure.
2. Motivations for monsters and NPCs (or some detail of how they interact with their environment or neighbors.): (4/5)
The primary villain was motivated by revenge, as some of his drafts were stolen and copied by rivals. I found the idea of an artist taking revenge against critics and plagiarists to be very engaging. The NPCs in the party scene were very entertaining, as was the semi-innocent messenger that unknowingly delivers the trapped paintings. In the second half of the adventure, there are a lot of animated objects that attack anyone. This seems kind of odd, since presumably the artist had visitors, and he wouldn’t want his visitors getting attacked all the time. The "painted servants" are particularly problematic. They have a poisonous touch, and they literally hide behind curtains waiting to attack anyone that walks past!
3. Logical (the adventure should obey a sense of logic that clever players can use to their advantage): (2/5)
I would like to have seen more of a system to the paintings, in order that clever players could begin to anticipate how to handle them. Instead, some paintings have monsters that jump out. Some monsters pull the party in, some paintings can heal on command, and one painting has a "phantasmal killer" trap.
There is no explanation to the party about why or how the main villain has split into 3 different "personalities", nor any reason for the party to expect more than one vengeful artist to be hanging out at the mansion.
The chase at the beginning of the adventure is outstanding… the party can find out that a messenger is delivering multiple paintings, and this gives strong motivation to chase after the messenger.
4. Writing Quality (foreshadowing, mystery, and descriptions that bring locations and NPCs to life): (4/5)
Some of the adventure is really outstanding. I’ve already mentioned the party scene above. Another very well written part is the death of the art-thief who was stealing the villain’s drafts. He meets a gruesome death--that may actually seem justified if the party understands that the victim actually was a thief.
One of the background plot points is that the vengeful artist had a servant that was secretly making sketches of the artist’s work, and selling them to a competitor who would rush the paintings to the market. What the party discovers is some unfinished paintings in the vengeful wizard’s studio that look like copies of finished paintings that a rival has already put on display. In other words, the party could reasonably assume that the vengeful wizard was plagiarizing his victim (instead of the other way around). The adventure includes a short note from the vengeful artist accusing the rival artist of theft, but I think there needed to be more of an obvious link in the rival artist’s home… perhaps something self-incriminating. Otherwise it is too easy to dismiss the note as the ravings of a madman.
There are a few clever bits hidden here and there in the writing. One note from the vengeful artist warns that a victim feels "the sting of his duplicity gnaws at him" while the poor victim is eaten by hellwasps.
The last several pages of the adventure are just setting material, and not at all necessary to the adventure. This is pure padding that knocks my rating down from a 5 to a 4. Also, the magical items seem somewhat bland: a brush that casts animate objects (like a wand); paints that are spell-storing; a painting that casts healing spells… nothing really crazy or imaginative (taking "marvelous pigments" as a benchmark for great interesting magic).
5. Ease of GMing (Clear maps, friendly stat blocks, skill check numbers, player handouts and illustrations): (3/5)
The maps are clear and very helpful. There are a few handouts that are mixed in with the text of the adventure, so they cannot be easily photocopied and handed out. There is one great half-page illustration of one of the paintings that the party can enter. I might have liked to have seen more illustrations of the paintings that the party interacts with. There are 3 different illustrations of the villain, that could have been better used as more illustrations of paintings. I’ve already mentioned that the very first encounter is the hardest one in the adventure. The "party" scene is especially hard to play if you are wedded to using a grid and miniatures (as shown in the adventure). Toward the end of the adventure there is a gallery filled 53 paintings and the adventure suggests that the GM "feel free to describe other paintings not already mentioned as you see fit, but keep in mind the randomness of the collection". I would have preferred to have fewer paintings in the gallery, but give me more examples of what the paintings are. I pay for a published adventure to have someone else to a lot of this creative work for me so that I can concentrate on the play at the table rather than having to think up creative random paintings on the fly.
This adventure starts with an exciting chase, but bogs down with repetitive combat and extraneous setting material. It really pains me to give it such a low rating. I’d remove one of the two monsters in the first encounter, making it a reasonable EL9 instead of EL11. The chase at the beginning is outstanding, as is the party scene in the ballroom. I’d tweak the ballroom to be a series of events instead of grid-based combat. I’d scrap all of the painted servants in the mansion. I’d probably eliminate the multiple-personalities as well. I’d put all traps out of the way of regular guests, and I’d have the studio be very private, secretive, and have more trapped paintings that are similar to the early ones. I’d also include some non-combat paintings that the party can enter to find useful clues or information about the villain.
There is a weird new monster, an undead elf that taught the vengeful artist some of the magic. I would probably scrap this and make it more of a fey or outsider. There is no reason for it to be undead!