Most of the current releases from third-party publishers supporting D&D 5E are conversions of existing adventures. The first release from Genius Loci, Assault on the Southern Horn, is of that sort. In this case, it’s the conversion of an adventure written for the Swords and Wizardry ruleset (which derives from the original Dungeons & Dragons and its supplements).
The adventure is presented as a 21-page pdf for a low price. The map and cover are in colour; the rest is black & white. There are few illustrations; the cover is the least impressive of them, but the black and white interior art is of good quality when it appears.
And the adventure itself? Things are complicated by text proclaiming this is the fourth part of the Two-Page Adventure Series, a series that has not yet been released for 5E. However, it does stand on its own quite well. (This adventure runs more than two pages).
The basis of the adventure is that a strange, eldritch “Horn” – a magical tower – has appeared near the town of Backbend. A sage and his apprentice got into trouble while examining it, and the sage uses his magic to call to help; a call which is heard by the adventurers. All the group need to do is penetrate the tower and rescue the apprentice.
The Horn consists of three levels with 17 encounter areas. The Horn appears to be a technological device, which is quite foreign to most D&D campaigns. I’m quite fond of this juxtaposition of technology and magic, and it’s used here to allow a number of distinctive encounters. The inhabitants of the tower are primarily Unseelie elves and their Ragmen servants, who have been capturing wizards from nearby lands. So, in addition to freeing the sage’s apprentice, a number of other wizards can also be freed by the party. Some of the opponents are willing to negotiate with the players, which allows for some interesting role-playing situations.
So far, so good. Unfortunately, the writing and editing of the adventure are a mess. In particular, the author’s grasp of 5E rules is imperfect; the most obvious mistake being that the spell-casters in the adventure (of which there are several) have the spells they have prepared listed, but they have no spell slots with which to cast those spells nor any indication of caster level, DCs or spell attack bonuses. The calculation of attack, skills and saving throw bonuses is erratic, and the challenge ratings tend to be too high when compared to monsters in the Basic D&D rules. The lack of spell slots and caster levels is a major problem; at least when the attack bonuses are miscalculated, they aren’t too far wrong from where they should be. Numerous spelling mistakes and grammatical errors abound.
There’s a lot of inventiveness of the design. It’s just not portrayed well. One of my biggest problems with the text is that the adventure manages to introduce several new opponents without giving any description of them! What is a Thelidu or a Ragman? (Some research reveals that the Thelidu is actually the creation of the blogger of Grognardia, James Maliszewski, and included by Matt Finch in the Swords & Wizardry Monster Compendium; the Ragmen are original monsters of Genius Loci).
Assault on the Southern Horn includes eight new monsters, three new magic items, a new sub-race of elves (the Unseelie), and a new background, the Exile. Although most of these have rules issues, the Exile is quite well done.
Ultimately, Assault on the Southern Horn reads like it needs a couple more rounds of editing and development. There are good ideas here, but the presentation is poor. I hope that it improves for further releases from Genius Loci.