When a Star Falls is the fourth adventure in the UK range and the first one not set in the World of Greyhawk. This might seem an insignificant change, but it opened up the later UK adventures to a wider range of possibilities. This is quite apparent in this adventure, as Graeme Morris allows his imagination to take full flight, unrestrained by having to conform to the “feel” of Greyhawk. (To be fair, few of the UK adventures really feel like Greyhawk adventures, but this one is special).
The adventure is concerned with a group of sages. They have learnt that the book of prophecies they’ve been using has come to its end, except for a set of instructions as to how to replace it. They have to retrieve a recently fallen star – a meteorite – and take it to a colony of deep gnomes to forge into an unusual artefact; once this is done, they will be able to gain a new book of prophecies. It might seem like a simple find and deliver quest on first reading, but is complicated by a power struggle within the sages complicates matters for the players. There is also the clear indication that the book of prophecies actually comes from the future, and that player’s actions will help that future come to pass. It’s a fascinating plot.
The player characters are drawn into the story when they come across the result of the conflict within the sages: the agents sent to recover the meteorite have been betrayed and killed. The traitor used a memory web (a new monster) to do this, but he didn’t foresee that if others killed the web, they would gain the memories of the sages’ agents. Given that it’s very likely the players will kill the web after it attacks them, the plot is thus set in motion.
The adventure’s structure is mostly linear, with encounter areas being separated by wilderness travel. The wilderness travel is not dwelt upon at length; instead the adventure uses a small number of unique random encounters, each of which can only be encountered once. The result of this is that every encounter in the wilderness is potentially interesting and the encounters do not get repetitive. The actual encounter areas tend to allow a wide variety of approaches, and offer a good mix of role-playing, intrigue, exploration and combat. It is very much a superior adventure.
One excellent feature of its writing is how it provides the DM with a basic structure for how the writer thinks the adventure should play out. This sort of guidance was uncommon in those days; for an adventure which relied heavily on role-playing, it made a big difference to the ease of running the adventure. It’s the sort of advice that would have made some of Tracy Hickman’s otherwise brilliant adventures even better.
I would not be surprised if Graeme Morris also sneaked in a reference to the superb UK TV comedy “Dad’s Army” – the leader of the gnome guards protecting the sages is called Captain Mainwaring!
The adventure uses very few standard monsters from the Monster Manual, which helps give it a distinct feel separate from the US range of adventures. The monsters are drawn from the Fiend Folio and the recently released Monster Manual II. (The emphasis on role-playing and story also helps distinguish it from most previous offerings).
The maps and artwork are generally very good. The adventure has a double cover, allowing all the maps to be placed on one of its three sides (the fourth being the actual product cover). There are a large number of maps, but the labelling system used makes it very clear which part of the module is used with which map. In the most complicated areas, the maps also set forth where all the monsters are, so you can know this at a glance. Sadly, the cover art is particularly weak and rather fails to “sell” the adventure.
When a Star Falls is one of the best adventures in the AD&D line. It presents a challenging adventure that presents a believable world – not ours, but a glimpse at another. The situations follow on logically from one to another, and each shows a great deal of thought as to how they’re constructed. It is not an adventure for players who can’t think, but one that challenges the skills of the superior player. Definitely an adventure to acquire!