Monday, February 14, 2011

Quick Review - Knowledge Illuminates

This is a quick review of the new module Knowledge Illuminates by Tim Shorts of GM Games / Gothridge Manor blog. It is in PDF format for $4.00. Tim generously sent me a copy and it's much appreciated. I've not played the module. It's made for Swords & Wizardy - although I'm not sure if the flavor of S&W is Complete or Core.

So... quick review in a list of pros and cons. There are spoilers so read no further if you intend on being a player.

  • Neat ideas to be gleaned here. 
  • Nice backstory.
  • Straightforward dungeon with some traps and possible killing fields (shadow and ghouls - the ghouls will be a TPK if the players get trapped between them and the pits - better hope that turn is successful.) I would kill someone with this, by playing the ghouls as they should be played.
  • Chest is a definite campaign starter or destroyer, depending on if you go with a LotFP style undead storm or just a source of evil.
  • Neat little diversion for existing campaign with some tweaking.
  • Minor nit - put the wilderness map before text. (even small sample like the dungeon map)
  • The Ankheg at AC2 will be tough. For first level, I might put a bit more warnings of something bad - like a fresh corpse really ripped up.
  • Skill Checks and DLs are not something that's covered explicitly in S&W Core nor are they explained in the text of the module beyond a "I put them here, ignore them if you like" blurb. If they are in S&W Complete, I'd suggest updating the compatibility to saying "Complete" or putting in a reference in the blurb or some houserules examples.
  • Shadow vs. 1st level players will be tough especially with no magic weapons. I'd make the shadow stay in the room by the corpse to avoid a TPK because it will generate one.
  • Personal nit - the dungeon is serial in nature. I'd remap it to be more interconnected with multiple paths. That's just my preference though. It definitely will not be a challenge for players from a layout standpoint.
Final Thoughts - This is a fine campaign starter and in the hands of an experienced DM, this will be a very challenging set of adventures for a 1st level group of characters - for the experienced dungeon divers, this might prove to be a bit too short and straightforward, but that's where the EvilDM(tm) tweaking comes in. This has nuggets and tidbits that make it worth your while to pick up, especially if you can get it on some sort of bundle or sale. [1]

[1] Addendum - My own personal approach to reviews is to send a pre-release to the publisher/author to let them see it. Perhaps I'm not seeing the forest for the trees. Perhaps I really missed the boat on their approach. Perhaps at the end of the day, I just don't like what they did. Regardless, it starts a dialog and sometimes I'll include rebuttals from the author.

The reason I'm mentioning this is because I confessed to Tim that I probably would not have bought this item at $4.00. Small PDFs like this have an internal - to me - threshold of about $2.50 or so. At $4.00 for a PDF, I'm probably looking for more than 15 pages and a single serial dungeon. As I told Tim, it's not his content, it's the fact that there is so much for free on the Internet that for me to "value" something above that $2.50 threshold, it needs to really be an awesome piece that is getting killer reviews or a sourcebook or something that I'm going to jump into right away.

That being said, everyone prices their product as they feel comfortable and I do not begrudge Tim his pricing nor do I think he should change it. He values his work at $4.00 and I respect that... but I'm not sure - as the reviewer - that I can agree with it, by my own standards. At the end of the day, we own our own wallets and can only make our own choices. I only bring this up because I think it's something to be aware of... and it's something that small press publishers should be aware of - there are active choices being made for that $2.50 vs. $4.00. If you're just publishing for fun/beer money, then you're probably less affected than someone who really wants to start a new business venture.

Tim, for my money, when you do finish all of your One-Shots, I'd love to see a bundle because I think that would make for a great product, based on what I've seen so far. I hope you keep putting your stuff out there.


Tim Shorts said...

Thanks so much for the review and your points are noted. And as we discussed the price point was probably the toughest one.

And I do plan to get a handful out there and doing a bundle. Again I appreciate the time and thoughts you took to review it.

Tim Shorts said...

Michael asked me to clear up whether the skills checks were Complete S&W. I don't believe they are. It's more of a homerule thing I suppose borrowing more from Rob Conley's very simple skill set. I just wanted to add a difficulty level to some tasks, but like all good OSR GMs will do, keep what they like and toss the rest. I should have explained them more in the introduction. You can bet the next one will have it included.

Thanks again for the review.

ChicagoWiz said...

@Tim - thanks for both followups! Much appreciated :)