5E Adventure Review: The Pillars of Pelagia

The third adventure in Goodman Games’ Fifth Edition Fantasy series, The Pillars of Pelagia, is an adventure for four to six 3rd-level characters by Chris Doyle; an appendix scales it up for 6th level characters. I have the pdf of the adventure, which weighs in at 50 pages (including nine pages of player handouts). Despite its length, it’s suggested it can be completed in a single session. The price on DriveThruRPG for this product is quite affordable; there is also a printed version of the product that should be available soon.

There’s no way to get around this: the editing of this adventure could be better. There are many clumsy phrases, bits of broken grammar and indecipherable sentences. The longer the piece of descriptive text, the more likely it will have problems. I’m normally not fond of florid writing, but when it is used with poor grammar? It’s not good. I had to reread the introduction several times before I understood what it was trying to say. Thankfully, most of the actual adventure text isn’t too bad, but errors still occur.

The adventure is a prequel to one of Goodman Games’ 3.5 adventures, The Crypt of the Devil-Lich. The adventurers are sent to a sea tower to look for a missing wizard, who, as it turns out, is already dead. Instead they discover his frightened familiar and a group of aquatic drow invaders – and all the regular tricks and traps you expect to find in the tower of a wizard who likes creating new magic. There are 21 encounter areas in the adventure, and I must compliment the map design – a side view of the tower really gives you the proper sense that you’re in a tower, not just another building.

Much of the adventure concerns a treasure hunt for items hidden by the familiar. There are few intelligent foes; traps and animated constructs provide most of the challenges. Fighters are likely to be quite sick of fighting numerous creatures that are resistant to normal weapons by the end of the adventure! On the other hand, puzzle-solvers should be delighted.

I find it interesting that the tactics of the chief foe are described in some detail: five rounds of action! For a character with an AC of 16 and only 38 hit points, this is a brave decision. My impression is that the encounter is entirely too complex (or there is too much detail given). It requires over four pages of explanation! Quite frankly, this is a bad use of space. Including the stat blocks in the text really detracts from its comprehensibility. I’m sure it could be an entertaining encounter, but there are much better ways of expressing it.

The adventure is nicely illustrated with a number of black and white pictures, but there are a number of problems with its layout: the spacing between lines in creature stat-blocks is too large; when coupled with a generous size of font, it means even short stat-blocks take up a lot of space. The stat-block for a modified harpy, for instance, takes a column-and-a-quarter to display. When you have some stat-blocks breaking over two pages and requiring a page-turn to access all of it, you have a layout problem. The maps are attractive, but the grid is too faint to discern easily.

Overall, there are a lot of good things about the adventure, but it’s dragged down by a number of problems that better editing and layout would fix. I dislike that an adventure uses so much space for only a single session; I remember the days of Pharaoh where you could get several sessions of adventure from a 32-page book. Pillars will likely be an entertaining adventure; I just wish it was more tightly constructed.

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