Aardevarque Comment: The Silver Key
Date Reviewed: 04/05/1996

Well, I've found enough time to cobble together a review of this recent
addition to TSR's line of modules, so here it is!

Once again, the ever-changing rating guide:

1  [Class] Screens -- Don't waste your money
2  HHQ1 -- OK if you're into that sort of thing, or a completist
3  S4 -- Get it if you have the spare change, it's pretty decent
4  T1-4 -- Definitely a worthwhile addition to any collection
5  1st ed. DMG -- What, you don't have this already?

TSR# 9508
2-6 Characters of levels 2-8; total of at least 12 levels
Sug. Retail: $7.95

Author: Ted James Thomas Zuvich
Editor: Miranda Horner
Creative Director: Steve Horner
Cover Ill.: Paul Jaquays
Interior Ill. & cartography: Arnie Swekel

Non-spoiler stuff:
  I notice they don't list "playtesters"; though if it wasn't
tested, it doesn't show it.  A decent module with a number of rough edges,
this seems to be aimed more for the mid-levels of the given ranges of # of
characters & levels, but will work just fine just about anywhere in
those ranges, due to certain twists in the module.
  The layout of the information is confusing at times, as things are
occasionally mentioned before they've been detailed, and a few passages take
a few readings to become clear.  However, any DM worth the name should
completely familiarize himself with a module and any possible quirks in it
before running it, so this really isn't a problem.  There are also a couple
of things in the module that require a little prep time, which the DM should
be on the lookout for--this is not a module that you decide to run at last
minute just for the heck of it.
  The story is engaging, actually makes a bit of sense, and isn't either
just a dungeon crawl, pure role-playing, or hack & slash, but something
of a combination that looks like it would work well.  There are a few
problems here and there, some that might through the DM for a loop if he's
not good at winging things or doing some preparatory writing.
  The cover art is typical excellent work by Paul Jaquays; I find that, for
more "mundane" fantasy art anyways, I'm growing to prefer his work
over TSR's "poster boys": Easley and Elmore.  The interior artwork
is quite good, this is especially nice since at least one of the pictures
seems to be intended to be shown to the players, and awful art on player
handouts is a good way to ruin the feel for a night.  The art is also
excellent for giving the DM a feel of how the portrayed characters look and
act.  The interior maps are done in ink-wash rather than the stark
black & white of most maps, or the ink line of the rest of the artwork,
and are pleasant to look at, rather than simply functional.  The same goes
for the full-color map inside the cover.

This is a good, decently crafted module.  However, it doesn't really jump
out and grab me as an outstanding one, though it will probably be memorable
to the players.  It has some inspired parts, but some unfortunate failings
as well.  Nothing that can't be gotten around, but a few things do make for
more work for the DM.  If you're into that sort of thing, or are planning on
heavily modifying it anyway, then that's not so bad.  I think DM's and
players who like a lot of role-playing with their dice-tossing will get a
kick out of most of this adventure, but combat-mongers won't enjoy it as
much--though there is plenty of combat available, for those who like such
things.  In any case, I do recommend picking it up, especially as this seems
to be the beginnning of a new-old trend from TSR (good generic modules!),
though if you skip it, you haven't lost out on all that much.  I, for one,
do not regret plunking down my eight bucks at all--the opposite, actually--
though I strongly suspect that some people may indeed regret this module.

Rating: 3.9 of 5

See below for the blow-by-blow review.


This is an interesting adventure, not set in any given campaign world.  The
"silver key" in question is the Ca'ega, a magical item that makes *gating* a
snap.  It was the "key to the city," if you will, of the city/barony of
Honshar, located on the border of a kingdon.
  Honshar is a barony on hard times.  An orcish army is pressing them hard;
most of the residents have retreated to the walled city/castle of Honshar
(able-bodied fighters) or left temporarily for safer locales
  Just before the beginning of the adventure, a group of soldiers escorting
the Ca'ega between army camps was ambushed and decimated.  The orcs took the
key as well as the commanding officer, Lord General Herpein.  The local
wizard, Otasura (who seems to bear an incredible resemblance to a female
Yoda, even though she's human) recruits the party to retrieve the key.
Several adventure hooks are provided to help the DM tie this into an ongoing
campaign, though many of them require dropping clues in previous adventures;
the plug & play suggestions pretty much revolve around the players being
native Honsharians and local demi-humans.
  The scene with Otasura is well-done, written in a Q&A form rather than
just giving the facts.  Most of the questions a party would ask (and/or need
to know to run the adventure) are provided, including a picture of the
missing Herpein, should the DM decide to show it to the players (otherwise,
it's just mentioned that "Otasura shows the party a picture of Herpein").
However, the party doesn't get to do much in the way of battleplanning, as
Otasura has a plan already, and forces the players into it--she'll use her
wand to *polymorph* them into orcs and teleport them a few day's journey
away.  The players don't have a choice--the #1 gimmick of the adventure (and
several important bits later on) hangs on this.  (However, to the module's
credit, it's made to look very enticing--if you want to actually succeed at
the adventure.  Most role-players won't complain *too* loudly.)
  However, this is not a standard *polymorph* effect--to add to the
roleplaying, this module introduces something called "Orc Points" (OP).
When a character does things that are stereotypical orcish on the spur of
the moment (rather than declaring it as a deliberate action), the DM
nominates that character for an OP, and the DM and other players vote on
whether it was worthy or not--a 2/3 majority gives the player an OP.  A
unanimous vote after a truly heroic, self-sacrificing act, etc. will remove
one OP. If a character's OP ever equals his WIS score, that character
becomes an orc in mind and becomes an NPC (just like blowing your roll with
a *polymorph*).  Instructions are also given for transforming character
stats into orcish characters.
  The party is teleported from Honshar to what's left of Otasura's manor
house, and from there have to make their way to Krimba-Hai, the orcish
citadel in the mountains, probably by joining up with an orcish caravan.
The module provides a few local random encounter tables, as well as a couple
of programmed encounters, and numerous ways to gain/lose OPs.  Wizard PCs
are completely *screwed* as they enter Krimba-Hai, however, unless they have
some way of hiding their spellbooks (essentially, all books entering the
city are confiscated and destroyed by the gate guards)--and the characters
aren't given much in the way of clues that this could happen; it's an "Oh,
by the way..." aside in the paragraph about them entering the city.
  Once in Krimba-Hai, things get interesting.  Rather than map the entire
city, a flow-chart of events is given, and things are written so that the
characters don't *really* need map-related information.  Movement around the
flow chart relies on the party rolling 2d10 once or twice per day (depending
on whether or not the characters sleep or not) and following the indicated
  The players will (hopefully) work their way through the city and discover
a) that Herpein is a traitor and arranged the ambush, b) where the key is,
and c) the orcs are planning on using the key (once they can figure out how
it works...which will happen about 2 weeks after the PCs enter Krimba-Hai)
to *gate* a large commando force into the abandoned mines under Honshar, so
they can defeat the city from the inside.
  The problem with this is section that several of the necessary encounters
rely on certain numbers on the 2d10 coming up.  While there are several
things to modify the roll up or down (down is preferred), it's quite
possible that the dice could be really against the party and prevent them
from succeeding in the adventure.  The DM needs to be on the lookout for
this.  Another problem is that the flow chart relies heavily on both rumors
and false rumors--but the module doesn't provide any!  Not even a few
"suggested/sample true/false rumors"!  True rumors aren't all that tough to
come up with...the *first* time a result that has a bearing on the adventure
comes up on the die, but trying to come up with scenarios to lead to "False
Rumor", "Lost", and "Busted" isn't easy, nor is inventing a *second* rumor
that leads to a given result, except maybe for DM's who can wing anything in
their sleep.  There are also two random encounter tables thrown into the
mix, as half the time a random encounter is to be substituted for the result
on the flow chart.
  Once the party finds the info they need, they have to formulate a plan to
get their hands on the key without raising too much of an alarm.  A *lot* of
planning and specific info gathering is needed.  Otherwise, the players
don't have much of a chance of getting past the guards and priests, let
alone the zombies & the protective spells placed on and about the Ca'ega,
*without raising too much of an alarm*.  The DM determines how much of an
alarm is raised by how clever (&/or thorough) the players' plan was, and
then modifies how much of a lead they'll have when the pursuit starts.
  From here on is one big chase scene as the players race back to their
rendezvous point to be teleported to safety by Otasura, taking place over a
minimum of around 4 days in-game.  The module sets up an interesting method
of mixing random encounters & key events with the pursuers occasionally
catching up, as well as an logical (if difficult for non-rangers, since it
involves the Tracking NWP) method for throwing off pursuers.  The module
also says that the DM should give a photocopy of the map (which has all the
hexes, locale names, and terrain features marked!  Things the players
shouldn't be too familiar with), but then makes comments about, for example,
the players being _surprised_ by that waterfall in the river they're
travelling on.  I may be misreading this section, though; it's one of the
areas that takes two or three reads to understand exactly what the author is
  Then, when they reach the rendezvous point, nothing happens.  If they hang
around, it *never* happens.  A note is given for the DM's eyes only, that
Otasura was killed in a skirmish on Day 10 (*definitely* long before the
party reaches this point).  Oops.  The party gets to figure this out on
their own, though, with an entire orcish army out combing the countryside
for them.  The players then have to make a run for Honshar itself.  Remember
that the players are currently *polymorphed* orcs...
  When they reach Honshar, the party is killed outright (no save) if they
can't convince the defenders that they are *really* friends, and *really*
have the key (rather than some sort of orcish trick), and *aren't* part of
that orcish warband that has just come into view some distance away and is
heading right for the city.  However, any party worth it's salt will have
picked up on a number of things over the course of this adventure that they
can use (there's a scene from Otasura's greeting room, broaches she gives
them with her mark, a note from a certain slave in Krimba-Hai--or the slave
himself, etc.), so this really isn't that bad.
  Luckily for the PC's, if they manage to make it back into the city intact,
they aren't stuck in their orc forms, as one of Otasura's collegues can use
the wand with enough skill to return the party's original forms.  Note,
however, that any PC who became an orc NPC due to OPs may not *want* to be
changed back, or could end up an orc in a non-orc body.  Nothing short of a
*wish* will restore the original mentality.
  At least with great risk comes great reward.  Once the orcs have been
pushed back, the players are granted some rich farmland in the area, which
provides a steady monthly income.  They also essentially have friends for
life of the entire Honsharian military, as well as the Honsharian metal
smiths.  They also have a mortal enemy by the name of General Herpein
(provided the PC's didn't kill him).

Orc Points--why?
  It took me a long time of thinking to answer this one.  Essentially, they
exist (like a *lot* of things in this module) solely for a feeling of
something "different", "new" for the players, and provide for a lot of
role-playing possibilities.  There's also the instant 200xp granted each
time an OP is redeemed and an end-of-game award of 100*(# of current OPs)xp,
which are announced when the OP rules are explained to the players
immediately after being transformed--but running up OP just to get the xp is
considered an orcish thing to do, and so is grounds for adding an OP, and
may just push that character over the limit into NPCdom.

Overall, a decent module, though definitely with some rough spots around the
edges, and I wonder how well or not some of the conventions used in this
module actually work in practice (which is difficult to judge without
actually running it all the way through).  Like I said earlier; I do
definitely recommend it, though it's not really a "must buy".  However, for
$8, it looks like a decent evening or three's entertainment, and probably
more entertaining than spending that money on movie tickets or (one quarter
of) a novel.

Aardy R. DeVarque
Feudalism: Serf & Turf

Return to Aardy's RPG page.