This is the first part of a review of Matt Finch's latest Swords & Wizardry product, "Demonspore," published by Mythmere Games, available in both print and PDF versions. This review is of the free review copy of the PDF.
The first part of the review is an first impressions overview of the product; the forthcoming second part will dig into the guts of this adventure.
Spoilers will About... Be Forewarned
Demonspore is a two part dungeon adventure for characters of levels 3-6.
It involves sinister fungus beings seeking the rebirth of a dead fungus god, and their manipulations of a group of toad people. An enterprising DM could easily incorporate this adventure with other campaign elements such as The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom; the cults of Tsathoggua or Zuggotomy; the Sporecery Guild; etc. It also affords great opportunity for a plot-driven "Heroic Goody-Two Shoes" campaign, "Elminster needs you, the lawful heroes, to stop this wicked plan!"
I'm a big fan of Matt Finch's line art, and would have preferred such a rendition of the cover art as opposed to the painting which is a bit too muddy for me. I do think that Matt could illustrate an excellent children's book if he continued painting.
The lurid & rugose interior art, by Jason Sholtis, is uniformly excellent. I find it evocative of the subject matter and fun.
I'm unsure who is responsible for the cartography, but it is both clear and attractive. The maps are fairly non-linear and appear to offer significant tactical options.
The adventure begins with 3 pages of Exposition and Referee Notes. Usually I HATE HATE HATE such content if it runs longer than a couple of paragraphs (see Pathfinder adventures for an example), but in this instance I don't mind.
The clean layout makes the above information (and the rest of the adventure) easy to find information and read, as opposed to the HATE HATE HATE of run-on tiny text and spidery handwritten font sidebar in Pathfinder. It is also concise, clear, and doesn't dive into unnecessary text bloat.
I'm not meaning to turn this into a Pathfinder bash fest, but usually the Referee Exposition in a Pathfinder adventure takes an entire damn page to communicate a couple of paragraphs of information ....blame it on getting paid by the word? Although Demonspore does feature extensive introductory text, it is also efficient.
The adventure seems amenable to multiple approaches by the players: kick in the door, diplomacy/guile, stealth. There are several opportunities for interaction with NPCs, some of which appear to quite worthwhile, and the possibility of in-dungeon allies and resupply. Important NPCs are provided with concise histories and motivations, making them three-dimensional without the author falling into the black hole of frustrated fantasy author syndrome.
There is an appendix with several new monsters, which I like and are appropriate for the adventure. My favorite, hands-down, has to be the Toad-Hydra, which is part of a great encounter.
I appreciate the lists of all of the monsters/encounters in the adventure, provided in order for a referee to strike off ones already slain and plan monster tactics.
At this point I very much quite like Demonspore and am planning on purchasing the print version.
The product is attractive, clear, organized, and well-laid out, and should be easy to consult while running the game.
I like the setting, players, and plot, and could easily use it in my games, in many different ways. I get the impression that it has been thoroughly playtested and gone over with quality control in mind.
Useable for Megadungeon levels? Check!
NPC-assigned Heroic Quest/Investigation? Check!
Fodder for some beer-and-pretzel hack'n'slash play? Check!
My assessment of Demonspore at this point is uniformly Excellent, being imaginative, well-crafted, and versatile. Now I need to get it printed out and thoroughly picked over for part II of this review.