Aardevarque Comment: Evil Tide
Reviewed on: 10/27/1997

Evil Tide
TSR 9542
Number of Characters: 4-8
Levels: 5-7

Design: Bruce Codell
Editor: John Rateliff
Playtesters: Keith Strohm, Skip Williams, et al.
Interior Art: Glen Michael Angus
Cartography: Roy Bolholst
Price: $9.95

Rating Scale
1 Orc Piss -- Don't waste your money
2 American Beer  -- OK if you're into that sort of thing, or a completist
3 English Stout -- Try to get it if you have the spare change
4 Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster -- An eminently worthwhile purchase
5 Nectar of the Gods -- What, you don't have this already?

Rating: 3.9*
[*possibly subject to change when the sequels come out]

Non-spoiler review:

This is part one of an adventure trilogy with a particular race as the villains du jour, much like G1-3, D1-3, or the more recent beholder trilogy; this time around, the villains are "sea devils"--sahuagin.  It can technically be played without the following parts (Night of the Shark & Sea of Blood, both forthcoming), but it just isn't quite the same thing; thus the caveat on the rating.  As one can tell by the title and the featured villains, this is a sea-based adventure, with all the challenges that come with travel by ship, swimming, and so forth.

Sea Devils and Of Ships & Sea are suggested supplements that will add a lot of detail to this series, but they aren't vital; all the details that are  necessary to run the adventure (plus a couple extra) are included in the module.

It's very difficult to judge a three-part adventure with only one part in front of me; however, what I see looks solid, though in my opinion not quite as outstanding as Mr. Cordell's previous foray into adventure writing, Gates of Firestorm Peak; however as I said, this opinion is subject to change as the rest of the story is revealed in future modules.

In brief: A solid adventure which looks quite enjoyable--though naturally not of much use to those currently running campaigns far, far away from any oceans.  Worth picking up if you have the cash on hand, and possibly even worth saving up for.














Summary:  The players, for a reason left up to the DM are travelling to, or need to put in at Angler Island (and yes, fishing *is* a major activity among the island's residents).  A sahuagin raiding party picks that moment to assault their vessel and the dock area.  The PCs eventually discover that sea devil activity has suddenly increased, and that several locals vanished while exploring some sea caves under the island which were recently revealed by some seismic activity.  Naturally, the sea devils are at fault.  Through the course of the adventure, the PCs discover the (usually grisly) fates of many of the explorers, and get a lead on the rest; they also will discover what the sea devils are doing in the area--though the true *why* of that may remain a mystery (for now)--and (hopefully) foil the sea devils' plots in the process.

The beginning of the adventure includes a decent hook in the form of the initial sea devil attack; as oft-used as this type of hook is, it really brings home to the PCs that there is a real problem here to be dealt with more than a want ad or just an interview with the town mayor ever could.  A lot of the research conducted around the town of Angleburg and the rest of the island is left up to the DM & the PCs; what details are located where is given, and it is up to the PCs to interact with the locals to track down the information they'll need to get by (and survive!) the main part of the adventure.

The latter part of the adventure is designed to be a wake-up call to PCs who are min/maxed for land encounters--those Invoker/Elemental(Fire) specialists and two-longsword Driz'zt clones will find themselves repeatedly running up against the question "How long can you tread water?"  In this, this adventure represents a refreshing change from most adventures I've seen--and the quality is a lot higher than The Murky Deep, or whatever the last generic AD&D module set mostly underwater was.

There is some help in the module for unprepared PCs, chiefly in the form of a Water mage (actually a Fathomer specialist from Of Ships & Sea), who can lend them necessary items and potions to survive underwater.

Once the PCs enter the sea caves, the module shifts more into dungeon-crawl mode (or bug-hunt; take your choice)--though with the obvious twist of having to wade or swim to get anywhere--and gets more and more linear as the adventure progresses, by nature of there being only one route through half of the caves.  From this point, the adventure is stacked against the PCs, what with limited air supply, opponents that not only are more at home in water than on land but also have far superior abilities to the PCs' in the water (the ability to sense, like many fish, the electric fields present in all living things is an enormous advantage), and who have a vastly better knowledge of the caves as well as time to prepare defenses and traps.  The PCs may actually find themselves retreating to restock on spells and supplies, and then returning only to find entrenched defenders ready and waiting for them!

A DM that knows how to run intelligent opponents may find it a bit too easy to kill off PCs in this adventure; unless the PCs are also totally on top of their game, the advantage is *very* far in the sea devils' favor.  A frontal assault will probably not work here, though the module is designed to repeatedly draw the PCs into a pitched battle with their foes, with the PCs at a disadvantage.  While a balance in favor of the villains may be a welcome change for some DMs, it can easily get to be too much and thus not as much fun for the PCs--there's almost *too* much of an advantage given to the villains (or rather, not *quite* enough help for the PCs), however "realistic" that may actually be, given such an extremely foreign situation for the PCs to find themselves in.  If almost any group I've been a player with was sent through this module, we'd almsot definitely have a 100% death (or full retreat, never to return) rate by the 5th or 6th room, and that's something I wouldn't even say about a "killer" module like Labyrinth of Madness or Tomb of Horrors!  A "siege" mentality and or paranoia among the players is almost inevitable, what with constantly being in danger of running out of air, discovering that the villains have superior tactics and can tell where the PCs are from an entire cave-length away (more if the PCs are bleeding!), and the guerrilla tactics that are probably required for optimum survival--though that mentality will probably lessen a bit as more and more of the sea devils are lost to attrition, resulting in generally more balanced encounters.

The ending is a bit too open for my tastes, but that's chiefly because there's another module that's supposed to fit in there.  A little bit of railroading may be required to get the PCs to leave the one remaining main plot unsolved--the location & fate of the final surviving captured locals (who apparently aren't due to be found until adventure #3!  What is this, a David Eddings series?)--and head into what is supposed to be the simple off-panel removal from circulation of a dangerous artifact but turns out to be the next adventure.

The layout is the current standard; two columns per page, a bar of artwork at the top of each page, approximately 1/2 inch margins otherwise.  There's a new bit in that the first page number(s) for a new section is in 80-point grey print.  I think I noticed one or two really minor typos in reading through this; they must've been really minor, as in looking back through it, I can't find them, nor remember what they were, and thus this is no different in that regard than almost every book I've read in any genre in the last few years.

The artwork is fairly standard current AD&D module fare; well-done though not really outstanding, definitely tailored to the module and the encounters therein, but with a couple of exceptions not particularly helpful for DMs who like to use the illustrations to show what a room/encounter looks like.  Better than some I've seen recently, worse than others.

The Good:
This is a generally well-done module; it is obvious a lot of thought went into this one.  The focus of the adventure is obviously not on calmly interacting with the sea devils, but rather on getting around them and/or defeating them in combat, and that end is achieved rather well, albeit with a reduction of almost all of the sea devils to strange beings with a totally foreign mindset who all look and act alike to outsiders.

This adventure dovetails very well with Sea Devils and Of Ships & Sea, but is still totally enjoyable without needing to purchase those books.  Everything the DM actually needs to run the underwater section of the adventure is given, as are the highlights of the sea devils' abilities & tactics.  However, a DM who loves the little details will find that there's a lot that can be added to make this module even more than it already is.

The sea setting is a departure from the vast majority of AD&D modules, and it is good to see it handled rather well.  The entire setting is foreign to most PCs, and probably to most AD&D players as well, and the module seems to thrive on that strangeness.  The author also remembered that the sea has tides, and the water levels in the caves are designed to change with this in mind, throwing another fun curve at the PCs.

Brownie points given to the author for including a magic item with a description that refers back to White Plume Mountain--it's the "little-known companion weapon" to Wave...

The Bad:
The adventure is a little slim on named NPCs (or even much individualization/individual personality among the sea devils); in the town, only those NPCs absolutely vital to the plot are described; everyone else is _totally_ up to the DM. A canny DM could easily add such details, true, but shouldn't *have* to do so in order to have them present.  The two-dimensional cannon fodder work as well as things go, but they add to the "dungeon-crawl" feel that I got while reading this.

There is one magic item to be discovered early on in the adventure that will usually be absolutely vital to successful completion of the adventure (depending on how things play out between the PCs and the caves, and the PCs and the sea devil leader).  Unfortunately, except for having a somewhat different design, it looks just like any other of a dozen ancient carvings of a type found all over the sea caves and certain locales on the island, and is thus easily overlooked.  Unfortunately, it is the key to the final room, and there are no clues to that effect--and no alternatives listed, like how much damage the "door" can actually withstand, all things considered (and there's a lot of things to consider).

The Ugly:
Like the infamous sphere of annihilation in Tomb of Horrors, there is one definite instant death without resurrection effect in this adventure, and another possible instant death.  The second, death by super-heated water, is very avoidable, but any misstep by the PCs could easily lead to that outcome, especially considering it involves the use of slashing weapons in combat.  The first has clues all over the place--literally, piles of dead bodies--that fairly scream "This is a death trap!"  However, chances are good that *someone* will get sucked in by it, especially since there is a decent chance of forced coersion.  It does make sense given the circumstances, but there's almost zero chance of the PCs ever discovering those circumstances--and thus it's just another death trap to them.

There is a bit at the end virtually guaranteed to make players with delicate consitutions quite queasy, especially if the DM likes describing rooms in a bit of detail.  It's actually an innovative addition--I'm not knocking the module for the inclusion of a tunnel made of whale intestines--just commenting on the "grossness" of the concept.  It's pure "ugly," albeit fun.

Conclusion:  A very good adventure with a few flaws, though nothing truly fatal.  I'm glad I picked it up--I'd love to run a group through this sometime soon--and I'm eagerly awaiting the final two parts of the trilogy.  My recommendation is to pick it up if you've got $10 to spend and want a new adventure, and consider it even if you don't.

Aardy R. DeVarque
Feudalism: Serf & Turf