Alabaster Palace of the Dao starts in an interesting way. The universe has ended. Ragnarok has come, and now Chaos reigns.
For many stories, this would prove something of an impediment. Rob Couture uses it in an entertaining manner: the player characters, once legendary heroes, have been resurrected by a Rakshasa and are asked to recover the four Jewels of Perfection, artefacts that will allow the universe to recover from the Chaos that has descended. It’s a great start to the adventure.
The rest of the adventure deals with the recovery of the first of the Jewels, which is held in a mote of Elemental Earth: The Alabaster Palace of the Dao. The map of the palace is a thing of beauty. It is beautifully drawn, and although the design isn’t too complex, it conveys the scale of the dungeon and the features that can be found therein.
Unfortunately, the formatting of the adventure thereafter has one or two problems. Chief amongst them is that the text appears to basically consist of stat-blocks. This is not entirely accurate: there is boxed text, sidebars describing NPC personalities, and descriptions of the areas, but I estimate about 40% of the text is descriptive and 60% is stat-blocks. It’s far, far too much.
One of the results of this is that the adventure doesn’t engage me as it should. It has a great concept, and the palace is filled with dangerous creatures which can be negotiated with or fought; sidebars give personality notes and ideas for player-NPC interactions. The rooms are described beautifully – but it drowns under an excess of stats. They also affect the formatting of the text, so that sometimes the personality notes appear on the same page as the room’s descriptions, and other times they’re separated from the main description by a page (and a lot of mechanics).
Despite these concerns, I can see that the adventure allows for an entertaining adventure. Whether it’s run as a hack’n’slash fight or a more role-playing heavy infiltration, the DM is likely to need to use a lot of his or her own ingenuity to run it, but the basics have been fleshed out enough for the DM to have enough inspiration to take it further. I would have preferred it if there were more cool things for the players to investigate though: there are a lot of monsters, but not so much in the way of tricks and traps.
For those that don’t like the post-apocalyptic setting, it’s quite easy to use some of the other suggested hooks and just have it as a standard earth-palace containing a valuable item guarded by dangerous foes.
Ultimately, I have a mixed reaction to Alabaster Palace of the Dao. It has a lot of good material, although the DM needs to do significant work to to bring it to life, and I’d prefer to have seen more unusual features than just the monsters. There’s lot of promise here and I’m hoping further adventures in the series engage me more. Ultimately, there’s one major problem with it: it doesn’t really bring out the setting. Yes, it makes the palace easy to place into other campaigns, but the post-apocalyptic idea is such a good one, I would have liked to see more done with it.