Aardevarque Comment: Tale of the Comet
Date Reviewed: 08/11/1997

Tale of the Comet
  (AD&D Odyssey adventure)
  TSR 1143
  $30 boxed set
Design: Thomas M. Reid
Editing: John D. Rateliff
Creative Director: Steve Winter
Cover Illus.: David Martin
Interior Illus.: Glen Michael Angus, et al.
Cartography: David C. Sutherland III
For levels: Any

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 -- A worthwhile purchase
5 Nectar of the Gods -- What, you don't have this already?

Rating: 4.4

Non-spoiler review: This is a combined campaign set/giant 2-part adventure
from the same product line that brought us _Council of Wyrms_.  Like a 
certain "classic" module, it introduces some new elements into the standard 
AD&D milieu, elements that may shake up any campaign, but in doing so may 
just provide a huge spark of inspiration to players and DM alike.  It is 
not specifically set in any campaign world, though it easily dovetails into 
any mid- to high-magic medieval fantasy world--assuming the DM wants to 
open this particular can of worms.  

DMs looking for a module that holds their hand every step of the way, 
includes boxed text for every room, and includes the speeches given at 
every point by every NPC will be disappointed--the combination of 
adventure/campaign set means that no two parties being run through this 
will have exactly the same experiences, due to the amount of tailoring to 
individual tastes & campaigns that DMs can do with this.

It is a limited setting, with a definite end in sight (actually two ends, 
depending on the PCs wishes after the first has been reached), rather than 
an open-ended setting such as Forgotten Realms or Council of Wyrms.  
However, the details included make this "limited" setting easily expandable 
into an essentially open-ended one.

This adventure has the potential to move a campaign *far* beyond its 
starting roots, and may, if the DM chooses, permanently change the entire 
tenor of the campaign--or even the game system.  I can also, unfortunately, 
see this set becoming fodder for munchkin campaigns the world around, as 
some of the new items and characters introduced here make their way into 
the campaigns the already feature PCs weilding Stormbringer & Mjolnir 
without a second thought.  The new material is much easier to phase out of 
the campaign than most high-power material, but it will have left its mark, 

However, the ideas raised and the thought that went into this are obvious 
from the get-go; it is much more in-depth (and even hands-on) than the 
first edition module that it bears more than a little similarity in 
setting to, and it also opens wide the Pandora's box that that earlier 
module kept shut for the most part.  That said, the material found in the 
box is *highly* optional, and will almost certainly not ever find their 
way into the core rules, or even the "optional" core rules.

If this is a sign of what the new TSR ("TSR, Inc. is a subsidiary of 
Wizards of the Coast, Inc.") has to offer, I think that we will be hearing 
a lot more positive comments about current TSR products in gaming shops 
and on the Internet.  In browsing this, I felt like I was reading material 
from TSR's previous heyday--it even includes a short comic strip!  I think 
Tale of the Comet is destined to become one of those adventures that 
everyone runs at some point, and then looks back on fondly years later.

Spoiler Review: Tale of the Comet is based around the story of a high-tech 
spaceship that crashes on a medieval fantasy world.  Adventurers that 
check into the stories of a "comet" smashing to earth may just find a 
wrecked craft with robots scrambling about in and around it.

At this point I'm sure many people are saying "I'm sure I've heard this 
before--Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, perhaps?"  They'd be right that 
the basic conept is similar, and there will definitely be a lot of people 
making comparisons between the two (even the editor makes the comparison, 
in the "editor's notes" at the end).  However, this is a *very* different 
take on the situation

The ship that crashes is one manned by the Rael, a space-faring merchant 
race-turned military might by necessity.  That "necessity" is the 
Overseer, an almost unstoppable AI bent on destroying all life throughout 
the universe, especially the Rael--an attack of whose servants were 
responsible for the crash of the ship.  The minions of the Overseer 
include both robots and cybernetically-controlled captured lifeforms that 
are similar in many ways to undead...except they still live.  The PCs are 
intended to help the Rael in their battle against the Overseer's minions, 
saving the PCs planet from the onslaught, and thus gaining access to a 
gate to a world populated by the Rael and under attack by the Overseer 
that could easily become a staging ground for the Overseer's minions 
against the PCs homeworld--destroy the local leader of the Overseer's 
troops, and the gate to the PCs world can be safely sealed off...assuming 
the leader didn't transmit the coordinates of the PCs world to the 
Overseer...  From there, the PCs can choose to return home, or stay in 
space and continue adventuring there and battle their way up the chain of 
command, hopefully eventually facing--and defeating--the Overseer itself.

The problem of high technology in AD&D is handled by essentially treating 
the technology as magic--finding spells that have similar  effects to 
weapons and copying the damage value over is but one technique used.  In 
addition, the technology is given the opportunity to blow past medieval 
defenses...but magic and miracles are given a similar opportunuty against 
the technology, evening things out a lot.  A party with magic weapons, 
items, and wizards & priests will fare much better than one without.

DMs looking for a module to hold their hand every step of the way will 
loathe this set, as it gives all the details needed for the setting, runs 
the beginning of the adventure and two sample adventures for the second 
half of the primary adventure, and outlines the rest in a lot of detail, 
including all of the information, NPC motivations/actions/reactions needed 
to run the rest of the adventure, but letting the DM run things as he 
pleases--including the final denoument that saves the PCs homeworld 
(...for now)!  The DM is also given total control (with a lot of 
suggestions, tips & tricks) for running a space campaign against the 
Overseer, should the PCs decide to take that route rather than just 
return home after the adventure.

Tale of the Comet includes three books, two fold-outs, and several 
page-sized cards:
  * The first, "The Cast & Props," serves as an introduction to the 
setting, and includes a general history and specific descriptions of the 
high-technology items (mostly weapons, armor, and vehicles) introduced here.
  * The second, "The Adventure Begins," is exactly what that says.  It 
describes the important locations & NPCs, outlines a number of plot hooks, 
and then runs characters through the crash of the spacecraft and the 
immediate aftermath, as well as everything the DM needs to know to run 
adventures leading up to the defeat of the nasty beings that caused the 
crash an the opening of a gate to the second part.
  * The third, "Crossing Over," gives much of the background needed for 
adventures on other planets, including two mini-adventures that serve as the 
[.................Line missing................Line missing..............]
and several advetnrue ideas, as well as suggestions for leading up to 
the final confrontation with the Overseer.  It also includes comments on 
how this adventure will probably change the PCs homeworld and notes on how 
DMs could handle PCs running around their homeworld with blasters & 
power-armor after the adventure is over.  It closes out with notes from 
the designer & the editor, and an appendix on how to convert characters 
from AD&D to Alternity rules, for those wanting to turn their campaign 
into a Sci-Fi one.
  *  The first fold-out is a poster version of the cover to the first book, 
featuring all of the nasty robots the PCs are likely to face, from the 
lowliest flying camera ("Seeker") to the big AI behind it all ("Overseer").
  * The second fold-out includes an elevation map of the countryside around
 the crash site, an aerial view of the town that is the start of the 
adventure, a person's-eye view of the area--especially the town, and color
maps of the crash site and the alien "town" that is the setting of the
second part of the adventure.
  * The first cardstock page is a master equipment chart, including the 
information given in the first book in the form of easy-find tables.
  * Two more cardstock pages give lists of wizard & priest spells that have 
no effect on the robots, and those that have no effect on the cybernetically-dominated cannon-fodder of the Overseer
  * The remaining five cardstock pages are taken up with color and black & 
white maps of various locales used in the adventure, and several 
illustrations that may be helpful at various points of the adventure.

The Good:
  Oh, where to begin! The basic idea sounds fun.  There is a good mix of 
pre-made adventures & plenty of foundations for a DM to go to town with 
and tailor the adventure exactly to the campaign at hand.  The writing & 
editing is top-notch--I've found exactly one typo (and that one was minor 
at that),   The flavor art actually meshes well with the adventure--there's
even a comic strip illustrating the interaction of medieval technology with 
high technology and high technology with magic (I especially love that the 
"kill" tally on the robot's wrist is updated between panels 2 & 3!).  The 
different technology levels are actually handled well, and it seems that 
the high-tech rules will work rather well in AD&D, a game which isn't 
exactly known for being easily expandable into the realm of high-tech; and 
the suggestions for creating new technological wonders make sense and look 
eminently workable.

The set doesn't specify exact levels; rather, it tells which critters are 
most likely to be found in an area, what the motivations & primary 
reactions of the important bad guys are/will be, and leaves the choosing 
of exact encounters up to the individual DM, to be beefed up or cut down 
as necessary.  In this way, a campaign can start at just about any level.  
(This is a very good thing, as it allows the setting to be used by a wider 
range of gamers, but it's not necessarily something I'd relish becoming 
the standard for *all* published adventures.)

The Bad:
  That said, I don't think starting at 1st is very advisable; the 
PCs are expected to have *some* experience under their belt, and *must* 
have access to magic spells/items to have much of a chance of defeating 
the bad guys--and it's unlikely they'll find any spells/items in the 
immediate vicinity and just as unlikely they'll leave a festering & 
growing evil force behind to go adventuring elsewhere to gain more 
magic.  Also, the end of the first half has a gimmick that basically 
_requires_ the PCs have access to a 5th or higher level magician and/or 
some powerful magic items.  I don't think it's wise to start a party on 
this adventure if they're less than levels 3-4, and the first part will 
probably be a cakewalk if they're higher than level 10...once they PCs 
figure out the technology vs. magic thing, quite possibly after a couple 
PC deaths.  It's plainly easier to ramp this up to higher power levels and 
still have an enjoyable adventure than to ramp it down--if it's knocked too 
far down, the players may not "get" much out of it.
  The addition of high-technology to a fantasy world can be a dangerous 
thing, but there is always the chance of destruction, running out of ammo, 
etc. to balance it out eventually.  I personally wish there was a bit more 
adventure and a bit less outline in parts--especially the main denoument, 
but that's only because I often don't have time to do a lot of 
scenario-creation of my own, rather than an inherent failing in the module.

The Ugly:
  The system for awarding xp for defeating the Overseer's robots is 
unwieldly and very complex--involving dividing lower-ranking robot's xp in
half and passing the other half up the line to the next higher 'bot, then 
dividing that robot's xp in half and passing that half on up the line, 
etc.--though the reasons stated for the system make sense.  DMs that love 
calculations will probably enjoy this addition to the xp system, as it is 
also usable for any case involving a single controller of otherwise 
mindless troops; DMs that prefer simplicity in their games will probably 
just use the listed xp values as is (or just make a few adjustments in 
advance) and not worry about the calculations.

In summary: Great set.  Run, don't walk, to your local RPG dealer and ask 
for Tale of the Comet by name!

Aardy R. DeVarque
Feudalism: Serf & Turf