Aardevarque Comment: Speaker in Dreams
Date Reviewed: 01/16/2001

It's been a while since I had the time (and the motivation) to write a review, so enjoy it while
it lasts. :)

The ever-changing rating guide:

1  Manos, the Hands of Fate -- Don't waste your money
2  D&D: The Movie -- OK if you're into that sort of thing, or a completist
3  Conan the Barbarian -- Get it if you have the spare change, it's pretty decent
4  13th Warrior -- Definitely a worthwhile addition to any collection
5  Raiders of the Lost Ark -- What, you don't have this already?

An adventure for 4 characters of 5th level
Sug. retail: $9.95

Author: James Wyatt
Editor: Roger E. Moore
Creative Director: Ed Stark
Cover Illus:Jeff Easley
Interior Illus: Dennis Cramer
Cartography: Todd Gamble

Non-spoiler stuff:
    This is the third in WotC's "Adventure Path" series of modules, intended to take characters 
from 1st-20th level and highlight various points of the game and styles of adventures along the 
way.  This module was supposed to showcase a town-based adventure that "leave[s] the dungeon 
behind".  WotC has also released a free "web exclusive enhancement" consisting of additional 
NPCs, locations, and encounters.
    I had high hopes for this module.  Sunless Citadel and Forge of Fury seemed to be decent 
modules, if a little heavy on the dungeon crawling.  From the product description, this looked 
to be a breath of fresh air--a political intrigue or at least cloak & dagger role-play-heavy 
mystery adventure, which is a style of scenario that TSR & WotC have generally neglected with 
their published adventures.  The adventure synopsis even mentions the PCs having to deal with "a 
web of secret allegiances."
    If that is what you expect from this, you will be sorely disappointed, as I was.  It's a 
relatively straight-forward, fairly linear search-and- destroy mission; essentially an 
above-ground dungeon crawl (with about as much opportunity for using role-playing to advance 
the plot), except with more innocent bystanders than usual.  Instead of Byzantine politics, you 
get a bad Game Boy adventure, where you start off with a fight and when you win it, you get a 
clue to the next fight, which leads to a clue to the next fight, etc.  It's not a terrible 
waste of paper, but there are some major flaws that hurt what is otherwise a fairly 
average-quality scenario, and the simple plot and execution of that plot is one of them. There 
is enough of a decent framework there for a good DM to take and modify to turn this into an 
excellent, memorable, adventure, but if run as-printed, it's not that great.
    On the other hand, if you enjoy stupid villains, and loads of hack & slash coupled with a 
few between-combat skill checks, some minor interaction with minor NPCs, and a little bit of 
problem-solving, this is the module for you.  Run out and buy it immediately!
    The web enhancement, while it doesn't patch the plot holes in the module at all, does 
provide a bit of fodder for the "missing" role-playing element--something which is vital to any 
large-town-based adventure like this one, and should have been included in the printed module.  
Even then, the material in the web enhancement are all side/"flavor" encounters; while they may 
help make the module much more palatable to/enjoyable by the players by giving them something 
else to do and people to interact with in town, I still think they'll be somewhat disappointed 
by the main thread of the adventure.  (I suspect that restrictions on the number of pages in 
the module [it's much cheaper to produce a 32-page module than a 26- or 37-page module] 
required that cuts be made, and that the "web exclusive" material is part of what was cut out.)
    For $10, this module is a bit pricey for what you get.  If you find it cheaper (say, on 20% 
discount at Amazon), it's probably worth picking up, even if just for the town, locations, and 
NPCs, to plug into a plot of your own devising.  If you really need a published adventure that 
will take your characters from 5th to 6th or 7th level (or if you really like combat-heavy 
adventures), then it's possibly worth it to you to pick up at full price.

Rating: 1.8 of 5
(With the web enhancement: 2.3 of 5)

See below for the blow-by-blow review.








Summary: The action of this adventure takes place in Brindinford, a river town in the midst of 
its annual street fair.  The PCs arrive in town at the height of the fair-- and just in time to 
become embroiled in the towns' problems, as group of wererats publically raid the fair for the 
very first time exactly as the PCs arrive on the scene.  (How conveeeeenient.)  The wererat 
leader takes his orders from a cabal of insane sorcerers, who in turn are being controlled by a 
rogue illithid with designs on taking control of the town's government, as the first step 
towards creating a new multi-dimensional illithid empire with itself as sole universal emperor 
over everything.  And there you have the entire plot.

    The adventure does not have to be quite as linear as that makes it sound, and it tries to 
prove it's non-linearity by providing a flowchart for the intended directions the action can 
take.   And, in fact, some of the key encounters in the first half of the plot can occur in any 
order or be skipped entirely, without much impact on whether or not the PCs can find the cabal 
of sorcerers, thus ending the first half.

The token new thing (item, spell, or creature) in this module is a creature, a "wyst", which is 
sort of a cross between a giant lamprey and a hydra.  It's pretty disgusting to look at (highly 
appropriate for a cthuloid setting, or something like Gates of Firestorm Peak, but merely 
horrific/disgusting otherwise), and adds little to nothing to the module, as it only occurs in 
one encounter, and even then is merely a plot device to point the PCs towards the next place to 

The Good:
    The basic setting is probably the saving grace of this adventure.  There seems to be a 
general shortage of decent medium to large-sized towns in D&D modules (as the standard setting 
seems to be the small town in the boonies that is plagued by a) undead, b) goblinoids, 
c) never-before-(or since)-seen monsters, or d) all of the above), and Brindinford could 
probably be lifted out of this module and dropped into just about any campaign.  The locales & 
NPCs in the web enhancement makes this even more doable.  Even the provided plot, in the hands 
of a creative DM, could be altered without too much difficulty to remove or patch over the 
worst flaws, in order to turn this into a fondly memorable adventure for the players.
    The interior art (what little there is) is generally easy on the eyes, except for one 
picture of an old female dwarf which makes her look a bit like a human lich.  The cartography 
generally succeeds in being usable without drawing attention to itself (either by being too 
flashy or too poor), though one set of maps is out of focus (I think it's at the wrong dpi), 
and looks dim and fuzzy compared to the other--crystal-clear--maps on the same page.

The Bad
    One test of non-linearity is the possibility that the characters can succeed through taking 
any of several, generally non- or barely- intersecting, paths.  In this case, if the PCs don't 
find the clues they need to stumble into the key encounters, the module uses additional, nearly 
unavoidable, encounters to railroad them into those key encounters.  If they do manage to avoid 
the unavoidable and/or somehow manage to fail to make their way through the first half of the 
plot, that's ok, because the second half is so painfully obvious that the PCs can't help but 
figure out where the Climactic Battle(TM) will be and either defeat the final villain(s) or die 
    There are a few somewhat noticable mistakes in the module as well.  (There may be more, but 
this is what I found on the first read-through.)  At one point, the module includes what should 
be a pitched battle between town guards & wererats, and indicates that there are 3 of 
each--except there are four hit point totals given for the guards.  Additionally, the module 
twice makes the mistake of commenting that the PCs have encountered the module's token new 
monster before the only encounter in which it appears, which is mildly annoying, to say the 
least.  Sure, there's a little bit of back-n-forthing between the various encounters, due to 
the supposed non-linearity of the module, but one of those mentions is at the very beginning of 
the only encounter in which the creature appears!  (An encounter which should only occur once 
during the adventure, at that.).  The other mention is in a very early intelligence-gathering 
encounter which has no route on the flowchart leading to it from the encounter with the 
creature, other than the flowchart's poor excuse for incompleteness in the form of a comment 
that PCs can jump from any encounter to any other encounter if character actions reasonably 
indicate such.  This in itself is a problem--TSR/WotC has experimented with such flowcharts in 
previous modules, and I don't think any of them committed this error--namely that general 
"intelligence gathering" encounters (like this one) should be the main hubs on the chart.  The 
chart simply isn't that well put-together, and its existence does more to emphasize the linear 
parts of the module than show how a non-linear adventure can be put together.
    Another problem, as has been pointed out on rec.games.frp.dnd, is that the cover, as with 
the two previous Adventure Path modules, includes a clear picture of the modules surprise big, 
bad monster on the cover.  This means the DM has to not only tell his players not to read the 
module, but also not to even look at it!  As I said earlier, in the case of this module, the 
monster on the cover is pretty tangental to the plot (though it appears in the first of a 
string of vital, linear encounters), so the spoilage factor isn't as bad as it might be, but 
that's not all that's spoiled on the cover.  If you look at where the D and R of "Dreams" join 
on the cover, you'll see a picture of the *other* big bad monster of the module--namely the 
illithid who is behind all of the events of the adventure!  Someone in the product design 
department at WotC should be sat down and lectured at length how to not give away all of the 
surprises on the cover!
    As for the lack of space which seems to have prevented the web enhancement material from 
being included in the first place, there probably would have been room for much of it, if not 
the whole thing, if they hadn't carried over the page border from the core books.  One of the 
main complaints about 2nd ed. modules was the amount of page area taken up by pointless headers 
and/or borders.  This border might lend some atmosphere, isn't as large as some of the worst 
2nd ed. borders, and I think it is much less distracting and easier on the eyes in black & 
white than the color version in the core books), but it takes up space that would've been 
better used by adding a few more paragraphs to further describe the supposed "web" of intrigue, 
how all the groups interact, and how they may come together (or undercut each other) to outwit 
the PCs and succeed in their various goals.

The Ugly
    Given the illithid's actions during the adventure, this story is actually Darwinism in 
action--for a race (and character) so intelligent, this particular illithid is so utterly 
stupid that it doesn't deserve to live.  The same is true, to a lesser extent, for all of the 
ostensibly sapient villains in the module.  (There is one "villain" which is not damned by its 
moronic actions to be extinct, but it's INT 1 to begin with, and is /summoned/ to the scene 
anyway, thus any stupidity surrounding its presence is not its fault.)  If I were over on 
rec.arts.comics.marvel.xbooks, I'd be sorely tempted to pull out David Henry's "The Moron Game" 
review and adapt it to this module.
    In lieu of that extreme step, I'll list off some of the basic stupidities of what should 
otherwise be characters of average or even high intelligence, we have idiot townspeople who 
haven't yet figured out that there are bandit wererats living in (and attacking anyone who 
enters) the town's pride & joy, a 125-year-old bell tower.  We have idiot wererats who decide 
that the secretive ambush & other guerrilla tactics that they've used up to now (including 
usually appearing in human form in public) are not the best way to whittle down the town guard; 
rather, they stage a public raid--in hybrid form--on the very middle of the fair and hope to 
kill as many of the troop of town guard that eventually show up.  We have idiot grimlocks, who 
up until now have used alley ambushes & home invasions to strike fear into the quarter of town 
they are in, suddenly decide that public raids on the fair in order to kill as many townspeople 
as possible is the best course of action.  We have sorcerers who--though insane--are still 
given high INT scores, and think that a) urging the wererats & grimlocks on to large-scale 
assaults in broad daylight is a good thing, b) residing in the only bookstore in town to 
specialize solely in other-dimensional cthuloid knowledge means that no one will suspect them 
when cthuloid monsters start appearing out of nowhere in the middle of the fair.  And we have 
an illithid who once formed an alliance with a beholder mage, who thinks the best way to gain 
mental control of the town's baron is to convince the sorcerers to urge the wererats to stage 
a public raid in order to cover the illithid's sneaking into the keep in order to mentally 
dominate the baron (rather than, say, pose as a mage and become an trusted advisor, or 
ingratiate itself to some of the town guard, and use them as a way to get to the baron, or 
mentally dominate the baron one of his trips outside the keep, etc.), and last but certainly 
not least, who thinks that no one will notice (and send a call out to the nearest society of 
paladins to bring in a SWAT team) that the town's ruler has suddenly gone evil when out and 
out DEMONS (oslyth & barghests) start enforcing martial law in the town and that one of the 
town's Good temples has been desecrated & partially destroyed.  I mean really-- you spend time 
working on a plan to secretly gain control of the town's leader, and the very first thing you 
do is declare martial law and encourage obvious demons to walk the streets?  Come on!
    By the way, you'd better hope you don't have any spellcasters running through this module-- 
even if the characters gain the level or two that the module expects over the starting point of 
5th level, the final battle is with a creature with a spell resistance of 25.  Even if a 
spellcaster has the Spell Penetration feat, his spells will fail to affect the illithid at 
*best* 80% of the time (at worst, 95% of the time)!  Also involved in that or shortly previous 
combats are creatures with SR of 18 (ogre mage) & 22 (osyluth/bone devil); this is definitely a 
module for combat-types!  (Also, the module assumes that 5th-7th level characters can sneak up 
on a creature that can cast /detect thoughts/ at will.  Not likely.)

    I know there are some people out there who really enjoy a hack & slash romp, and think the 
epitome of the game is situations where good is good, and evil is evil, and the job of the PCs 
is to slaughter everything but the innocent bystanders and follow the breadcrumbs to the next 
Mighty Battle for Truth, Justice, and the Oerdian Way.  If you are in that category, definitely 
consider buying this module, it's right down your alley.
    If you debate whether Machiavelli had the right idea, or think characters with INT 23 
WIS 19 should be able to come up with a better plan than "sacrifice every single one of my 
followers in public displays of violence so that, I can then publically announce my presence 
by bringing in creatures so obviously evil that paladins three counties away will drop 
everything and come running," avoid this module.  Or get it for the town itself, strip out 
everything else and insert your own plots.  If you do pick it up, definitely download the PDF 
from  with the expanded town description & extra NPCs, locales, 
and encounters.
    The most appropriate summation of this module I can think of is a quote from the character 
Shinobi Shaw from the Uncanny X-Men comic book, and it is with this thought that I leave you:

"In this shadowy world of cloak & dagger, you are plaid pants and a tuba."

Aardy R. DeVarque
Feudalism: Serf & Turf

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