Review: N1 – Against the Cult of the Reptile God

I thought my readers might be interested in more direct reviews of published modules, since I’m running those almost exclusively in my home AD&D game.  Since I stopped blogging just as I was wrapping up this module, I thought it would be an excellent one to start with: Dungeon Module N1 – Against the Cult of the Reptile God.

So why did I decide to run this module as my second adventure in Chasing the Dragon, especially when I’ve been so hot to trot for Gygax?

Well, for starters, you recommended it!  That is, my Twitter followers took a poll and this was the winner for the classic adventure to run.  Second, I really liked that the N-series was aimed at novice players and DMs (more on that later).  Third, it felt similar enough to The Village of Hommlet, which I ran last year, to not feel totally overwhelming to a new AD&D DM.

I read some reviews online, sneaked a peak at a bootleg pdf online, then took the plunge on eBay and DriveThruRPG.  It’s true…I like a hard copy and a pdf on hand.  So how did it fare when it came to actual gameplay?

For those keeping score

I’ve never done this formally before, so here’s how I’ll score this review.  I’ll adapt in the future, if it’s necessary.  All higher numbers are better.

Artwork / Maps: range of 1-5

Artwork is not especially important to me, though it can add some value to the experience.  Maps are certainly of help, but there’s only so much that can be bungled up in that area.  Thus the category only gets 5 points.

Readability: range of 1-7

This is on here precisely because I’m reading and running so many AD&D modules.  Some of things are a bear, because they’re a bore.

Plot: range of 1-7

Of course, sandboxy modules have less plot.  But I’m looking more for compelling plot hooks that draw me and my players in.

Ease of use: range of 1-7

As a DM, how difficult will it be to take this adventure from page to tabletop?  Of course the 

Fun Factor: range of 1-10

At day’s end, this is the most important piece, which is why it gets ten possible points.  Do the players and DM enjoy the experience?  If so, was it due to the adventure or something else?

Overall Score: range of 0-100%

These are not classroom scores.  Instead, they follow this scale:

  • 81-100% – excellent; a top tier module
  • 61-80% – above average; this adventure could stand toe-to-toe with most adventures published today
  • 41-60% – average; the majority of adventures should fall into this category, if I was reviewing them all–and if I was completely objective.  We’ll see how well I achieve that.
  • 21-40% – below average; while representative of AD&D adventures, I recommend them only if you’re looking to experience a certain adventure, setting, or author’s work.  There are better adventures to be played.
  • 0-20% – poor; I do not recommend this module.

Running the Numbers

So for Against the Cult of the Reptile God, I’m going to give the following scores:

Artwork/Maps: 2/5

Overall, the artwork in this module is pretty silly.  Very cartoonish with characters crossing their eyes as they get smashed over the head–that sort of thing.  The maps were fine.

Readability: 4/7

This is certainly a step up from Hommlet.  For starters, Douglas Niles has given us some great introductory information to set up the background of the adventure.  I also really like the “rumors” section, where you can get some misinformation to feed the PCs early on.  That turned out being a great DM resource.  I also like that characters involved in cult activity were clearly marked with a “Cult members!” heading.

Unfortunately, it’s set up like many AD&D modules, where you’re simply reading a key for the village map.  This is one of the reasons I enjoy having a pdf and a hard copy: I can have the pdf open to the map, while I’m reading the book.  That way I don’t have to flip back and forth constantly.

Plot: 6/7

Being a “novice” module, there’s no clear, compelling reason for players to be in Orlane.  Because of this, our whole first session was spent in nearby Hochoch being hired to do the job.  It was a classic, “Go save the person who disappeared scenario” that quickly started to feel like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Paranoia was high and traps were lethal, so my players were on the edge of their seat all along.  It was a really fun scenario.

My favorite thing about the module was that, unlike Hommlet and Keep on the Borderlands, the village and dungeon aren’t quite so separate.  Players will get the dungeon experience in brief glimpses throughout before they get to the big end-game dungeon.  I found this technique particularly helpful for new players to AD&D.

Ease of use: 4/7

For an AD&D module, I’ll have to call it average in terms of ease of use.  You really do have to read and digest a lot of information from the module.  Because it is sandboxy, it was hard to know what all needed to be read and prepared each week.  So I just had to skim the whole thing once more and keep my fingers crossed.

For the record, I would not call this module “novice.”  A novice module should say, “A [insert monster here] took the MacGuffin.  Look!  He’s up on that mountain.  Go kill him!”  Reptile God is far from that.  It’s a slow-burn mystery that leads players on wild goose chases until they themselves become the goose.  It’s a fascinating adventure in that regard, but it’s not exactly easy to implement.  Especially for a novice DM.

Fun Factor: 9/10

This has been my favorite AD&D module yet.  It’s just the right balance of social interactions, combat, and exploration that will keep all your players engaged.  The only down side, again, is that there are several interactions that simply aren’t set up well for novices.  There are some nasty traps and some really tough enemies that will make it very challenging for new players.  Just have extra characters ready to go!

Overall Score: 25/36 (69%)

Keep in mind that 69% is a really good score, meaning “above average; this adventure could stand toe-to-toe with most adventures published today.”  This is not a classroom grade!  As such, I’d recommend this module to experienced roleplayers from other systems who might be interested in trying AD&D, as well as to any AD&D players who need a short break from hacking-and-slashing.  I can guarantee that you and your players will have a great time playing this one.

Oh, and tell Bertram we said hello.  There’s no way he’d forget us.

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