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Raging Swan's Road of the Dead Collector's Edition Paperback – 11 Feb 2014

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Paperback: 44 pages
  • Publisher: Greyworks (11 Feb. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0957557094
  • ISBN-13: 978-0957557093
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 0.2 x 28 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,554,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Format: Paperback
Road of the Dead

Disclaimer:
I received this module for free for purposes of reviewing it.

Raging Swan Press has managed to publish one of my favorite 1st level adventures of all time with their very first release, Retribution. Road of the Dead is the new adventure by Raging Swan and thus, my expectations are sky-high and very hard to meet. While Retribution was EXTREMELY friendly on the DM and tried its best to make the adventure easy to run, Road of the Dead is the first adventure in Raging Swan's Go Play-series. The aim of the series is, as far as I've understood it, to make adventures the DM can pick up one hour before any given session, read through and run. A lofty goal indeed and I'll try to make my review taking both my own standards and this ambition into account. That being said, let's dive right into the review!

The pdf is 51 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 blank page on the inside of the front cover, 2 pages credits, 1 page table of contents, 1 page OGL, 1 page back cover and an accompanying blank page on the inside of the back cover.

That leaves 43 pages of gaming content.
The pdf kicks off with 2 pages of explanation of how to read the stat-blocks to help novice DMs and 2 pages introducing The Lonely Coast, Raging Swan's free mini-setting, which, if you haven't already, you should check out. For ease of reference, we get both a player-friendly map (1 page) of the area and a table including how long travels to specific locations take with different base speeds. An awesome idea that helps run the area and, if you're like me, will appreciate. I hate calculating distances and overland traveling times. Thanks for not making me do it in this adventure.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)

Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars 2 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A neat, intelligent little crawl with creepy atmosphere 21 Aug. 2011
By Endzeitgeist - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Road of the Dead

Disclaimer:
I received this module for free for purposes of reviewing it.

Raging Swan Press has managed to publish one of my favorite 1st level adventures of all time with their very first release, Retribution. Road of the Dead is the new adventure by Raging Swan and thus, my expectations are sky-high and very hard to meet. While Retribution was EXTREMELY friendly on the DM and tried its best to make the adventure easy to run, Road of the Dead is the first adventure in Raging Swan's Go Play-series. The aim of the series is, as far as I've understood it, to make adventures the DM can pick up one hour before any given session, read through and run. A lofty goal indeed and I'll try to make my review taking both my own standards and this ambition into account. That being said, let's dive right into the review!

The pdf is 51 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 blank page on the inside of the front cover, 2 pages credits, 1 page table of contents, 1 page OGL, 1 page back cover and an accompanying blank page on the inside of the back cover.

That leaves 43 pages of gaming content.
The pdf kicks off with 2 pages of explanation of how to read the stat-blocks to help novice DMs and 2 pages introducing The Lonely Coast, Raging Swan's free mini-setting, which, if you haven't already, you should check out. For ease of reference, we get both a player-friendly map (1 page) of the area and a table including how long travels to specific locations take with different base speeds. An awesome idea that helps run the area and, if you're like me, will appreciate. I hate calculating distances and overland traveling times. Thanks for not making me do it in this adventure.

In stark contrast to the multitude of different genres we had blended together in Retribution, Road of the Dead is a straight dungeon crawl spanning 18 pages. "Straightforward" might, however, not be the correct moniker for the dungeon the PCs are about to explore. Many of the encounters can be solved via more than one way, depending on the skills of the PCs. Only one kind of character won't have too much to do: If you happen to have a social skill monkey/ diplomatic character, you won't have too much for this character to do.

"So", you're asking, "Endzeitgeist, what makes this adventure special or stand out? What about its atmosphere?" All right, I'm going into minor spoilers there, so potential players, please skip to the next paragraph. The basic idea is somewhat reminiscent of Aztec/Maya myths of a physical road to the underworld, adapted to a fantasy setting. 3rd level and PCs treading the road to the underworld? Yep, however, the dungeon is only modeled after the real road (or what the architects deemed the road to look like) and thus works.

Mechanically, the dungeon is interesting due to several factors that can be ultimately be summed up in one word: Clever. Almost every encounter features interesting environmental factors influencing the combat and rewards PCs for fighting clever and makes good use of these factors. In stark contrast to almost all "Pick-up-and-play"-modules I've read so far, this makes for complex and challenging encounters. And no, the DM is not forced to skip through the rules all the time to look them up: They are all summed up in the respective encounter and feature even tables summing up the modifications of e.g. fighting in the water. The finale is lethal and PCs should have learned to fight intelligently at this point.

With regards to the atmosphere, I'm kind of torn. On the one hand, the adventure can work awesome and build significant tension, if pulled off right by an experienced DM. On the other hand, most of the potential tension comes from stuff like a bone portcullis, red water and the like, i.e. the "blunt force"-approach. While I personally like and can pull off romps like that, I can see the atmosphere becoming cheesy. In e.g. direct comparison to Retribution, there is no psychological component or particular involvement on the player's part. Granted, that's not necessary for a dungeon crawl, but it would have been the icing on the cake.

The adventure closes with two optional encounters each taking up a page, one as a complication/sequel/follow-up to the final battle (at least for sadistic DMs like me) and the second one a fairly straight follow-up encounter/interlude.

After that, we get the first appendix, new stuff (4 pages): 3 new demons (all CR 3, nothing to really write home about), 1 new disease, 2 new magic items and a new exotic double-weapon.

One of the best parts of the adventure, though, is the second appendix (10 pages), which contains player's handouts. Several key locations have their very own artwork you can show your players along a part of the map for strategic position and in case they don't get the layout of an area from your description. That's right. Player friendly maps you don't have to cut from your DM-map AND artworks. And yes, no secret compartments on the player maps. Very, very nice. This should be standard in the industry. The 2 new magic items also get their own pictures in this section, so you can easily hand them and their stats over to the players.

The third appendix contains 6 pre-generated PCs. (7 pages)

General features:
The editing and formatting is top-notch, the artwork is b/w and, while not absolutely gorgeous, beautiful in its own way. Due to the many artworks in player handouts and their quality, I'd say you get a lot of good art for your money. The writing helps you evoke suspense and the complex encounters can easily be run without having any other book at hand or skipping through the module.

Conclusion:
This is a hard one for me. If you'd ask me, which module was superior, I'd immediately, without thinking, reply: Retribution! And then go on to rant why it's so great. However, Road of the Dead does not try to be a sequel and it mostly succeeds at what it does. It's an atmospheric, cool dungeon crawl with an iconic location, clever encounters and intelligently designed environmental hazards. Has it succeeded at its premise, i.e. being a "Pick up & play"-module, with minimum preparation time? Actually yes, it did. I DMed the adventure and only read it an hour before running it and it worked, despite all the environmental factors. For DMs with limited time on their hands, this is a real boon and testament to clever organization and formatting.

However, being the nit-picker that I am, I also have some criticism: Road of the Dead lacks the spark of genius I so enjoyed in Retribution. Even if you don't take into account the genre of the adventure (straight crawl vs. wilderness/mystery/crawl), I felt like something was missing and, after careful consideration, managed to pin it down: Social interaction. The most suspenseful encounters in Retribution included talking to enemies and overcoming them via skill-challenges/role-playing and the like. In the case of Road of the Dead, your PCs won't have an encounter like that. I don't know whether my group is an aberration, but our diplomat (i.e. social monkey) didn't have too much to do in this adventure and one or two encounters like that would have deepened the immersion of the players. I realize that this criticism may be a bit unfair, as this is supposed to be a traditional crawl.

Keep in mind that this is criticism on the highest level.

My final verdict is 4.5 stars. If you're looking for a nice, crunchy crawl that is easy to run, add half a star. If you are one of those guys who want their PCs to talk and negotiate with just about everything, subtract half a star. If you're busy and in need of a good module to pick up and play, be sure to pick Road of the Dead up - the artwork as well as the DM-friendliness is worth your money.

Endzeitgeist out.
5.0 out of 5 stars as every word seems fine tuned to relate the nature of the dungeon and ... 17 Sept. 2015
By Lorathorn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
For full disclosure, I have received a free review copy of this adventure.

I must say that I continue to be quite impressed with the adventure offerings from Raging Swan. I have yet to see one that fails to inspire me for my current game, and they seem to be a natural fit with my current group and setting in a way that is almost spooky, or perhaps expertly crafted to fit the game aesthetic. The writing is especially on point, as every word seems fine tuned to relate the nature of the dungeon and its denizens.

Immediately I am stricken by the varied options given for bringing your players to the site, as though predicting the fickle nature of a group asking "why are we coming here again?". The options are all very well thought out, and are likely to fit any group.

The adventure itself is an interesting trek into an old abandoned holy site, filled with strange and unknowable secrets of ancient origin. Though there isn't much definitive history that fills the complex for exploration, the point of it is not to present the archives of the civilization, but rather to present a mysterious ruins of a long gone culture. I imagine that this serves to give a tease for a more nuanced (and personalized) delve into deeper tunnels, something for which I am grateful.

Included maps go far towards preparing you for the encounters, which are thankfully short, clustered, and well spaced. I favor relatively short dungeons as they are modular towards the needs of a campaign. As I have not (yet) decided to run a mega-dungeon, this fits into my story perfectly, and will be the fodder for many a session. Sadly, I have not run it yet, but I am eager to report the results as soon as I do.

The dungeon itself does an immensely good job of setting a tone of dread, having traps that do nothing more than scare the players (complete with evocative wording to reach player and character alike), and really exhibits the nature of the dungeon as that of a creepy analogy to travel into the afterlife.

The encounters, though untested by my group, seem very well done, and make excellent use of new monsters that attest to the nature of the Lonely Coast and its history. Though I will not use them as written for that reason, I will modify them to my own setting and use similar techniques to speak to a different history. I was thoroughly pleased by the monsters being used in this way, and look forward to doing so myself.

All in all, this adventure has me excited to run it. Good show.
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