The British contribution to Dungeons & Dragons is quite distinctive. UK2: The Sentinel is the first of a two-part series, which has the party recovering a magical artefact, a glove, designed to protect a keep from being destroyed by its evil counterpart, a gauntlet.
Yes, it’s quite an unusual set-up – and on a pretty small scale as well, which fits in with the character levels its designed for: “6-10 characters of levels 2-5 of whom at least some who must be lawful good, neutral good, chaotic good, lawful neutral or true neutral in alignment.” Yes, the adventure rather hopes that there will be some heroic types amongst the characters, rather than the usual band of mercenaries!
This adventure is entirely about the heroes finding and retrieving the magical glove, the Sentinel. The adventure begins with the group learning that a skulk is terrorising Kusnir, a small village in the Hold of the Sea Princes in the World of Greyhawk. (Any relationship to Greyhawk lore seems purely incidental). Tracking it to its lair reveals that it wasn’t its lair at all, but rather the lair of a group of half-orcs, who have been waging a war with the xvarts of the region. Upon discovering their mistake and the true location of the skulk, the group head in that direction, meeting a merchant and an old man along the way, before facing a lot of xvarts in a ruined villa and eventually catching up with the skulk, who hands them the Sentinel. All is thus set for the next adventure!
It’s quite a shock to go from reading Temple of Death to this adventure. Temple of Death is very much inspired by sword & sorcery tales with a fair helping of the weird and wondrous. The Sentinel feels quite mundane, belonging to a quite different tradition of storytelling. I’m put in mind of Elizabeth A Lynn’s The Watchtower and its sequels – the Sentinel is mouldering in an old, forgotten villa, and even the Keep it was built to protect has been taken without the Sea Princes even being aware of it! This, in itself, is one of the biggest flaws of this adventure; there’s no feeling that there is an actual government. The events take place entirely in their own bubble.
As with the other UK modules of its time, The Sentinel seems as much an excuse as anything else to use monsters from the Fiend Folio, the UK’s only hardcover book contribution to the AD&D line. I personally feel that, although the Fiend Folio has a few gems in it, much of its length is given into entirely too silly or redundant monsters. I am not fond of the plethora of humanoid creatures it brought to the game, and, as this adventure makes particular use of the skulk and the xvart, it is diminished in my eyes thereby. I would be assuaged by the adventure using them well, but they provide no role that a more standard humanoid race could provide.
The adventure also gleefully includes quite a few creatures that only magical weapons can hit, whilst having almost no magic weapons in it at all. I get very wary of this trick in low-level AD&D adventures; by levels 5- 7 it’s pretty assured that the characters will have magic weapons, but levels 2-5? Not so likely. At least the pre-generated characters will probably have a magic weapon or two.
An encounter with a merchant leads to a thief stealing something from the characters and hiding it amongst the merchant’s goods. It might have seemed a good idea as an encounter, but it feels out of place here. The encounter with the old man – actually a monk – allows the players a side-quest to recover some books, including one that has references to the Sentinel in it. It feels forced: the party are on their own quest and then divert to fulfil a different quest? There are quite a few assumptions here of player behaviour I’m not fond of.
The fact is that, while there are good ideas behind the adventure, I find everything particularly lacking in interest. This is not helped by the artwork, which is of mediocre quality and ugly, although the maps are quite nicely presented. The dungeons, in particular, are just downright dull. It gets the job done, but not in a way I find inspiring.