FAL Review: The Giant’s Skull

Publisher Fiery Dragon. Released 2001. Format Softcover. Game system d20. Pages 40. Price $9.95.

Designer James Bell.

In this installment of Fanboy At Large, I cast my net back through the years, searching for the hidden gems of the vibrant and exciting beginnings of what will go down in history as the d20 era. After trawling a bit I hauled in my catch of the day; The Giant’s Skull, an adventure that clocks in at 40 pages, published in 2001 by Fiery Dragon. The flaming draconian was one of the first pioneers of the d20 market and brought to market several interesting and innovative adventures, but today they are mostly known for their counter collections. Although they do offer adventures as well through their web site, now that I took the time to check it out.

The Giant’s Skull is a remarkable adventure for one single reason: you get to play both sides of the story. Apart from that, not much stands out. Between the covers you find 40 pages of adventure material, split into two sections concerning The Giant’s Skull, a fairly powerful magic item. The text is reasonably well organised, but suffers from a confusing and somewhat back to front approach to explaining the plot. Apart from a very good cover, the art and maps are clear but nothing evocative. They do their thing, nothing more and nothing less.

The first thing that marks this adventure as something other than a run of the mill offering is that colour counters are included. The counters show pictures of the monsters and heroes of the adventure, and they can be cut out and used instead of regular minis for resolving combat. A great idea, and something Fiery Dragon later developed into a product line of its own.

The duality of the plot is of course the star of the show. The first time the players play the part of a gang of ogres bent on reclaiming The Giant’s Skull from the evil and nasty humans. The second round casts the players as their regular PCs tasked with retrieving the artifact from the evil and nasty ogres. Unfortunately the adventure in itself falls short of its true potential, and is basically an average dungeon romp. I feel that it is a wasted opportunity, but a GM who works with the format can spin the ogre versus humans conflict into something truly memorable.

Worth checking out, but expect to work with the story to bring out the adventure’s full potential!


FAL Review: The Temple of the Troll God

Publisher Fast Forward Entertainment. Released Fall 2001. Format Softcover. Game system d20. Setting Green Races. Levels 4-7. Pages 48. Price $12.95.

Designer Timothy Brown.

Once in a lifetime, there comes a roleplaying product so grand in scope as to put all other competitors to shame. It shatters our conceptions of what a roleplaying game can be, and it shows us new ways of looking at our hobby. It is balanced, has innovative new rules or interesting takes on existing mechanics. It has a riveting plot which allows great freedom for the players’ PCs to get involved and change the outcome of the story.

The Temple of the Troll God is the anti-thesis of that product.

Released in fall 2001, this product hasn’t aged well. Heck, it got hit by a ghost’s aging touch the second it hit the shops. I know it’s very much too late to review this adventure now, but I do so for several reasons. First, I had already written a review years ago so I might as well use that again now that I’m launching FAL. Second, it will help you all to start figuring out what I like and what I don’t like.

The Temple of the Troll God is part of a trilogy (made up of Fortress of the Ogre Chieftain, Temple of the Troll God and Slave Pits of the Goblin King), but can be played by itself. It is set in the setting of the Green Races, on a world called Elara. The layout is simplistic, the maps are under average and the illustrations of low quality. The structure of the text is incredibly confusing and freely mixes text on the adventure, the rules and the “unique” setting. All in all it feels like a train off the rails; it lacks direction and is heading towards a train wreck.

A premise for the adventure doesn’t exist. There is no plot, no reason for why the PCs would be where they are, there is no logic to what’s going on or why anything happens. Somewhere among all this is a temple dedicated to a god worshiped by trolls, and this is where the PCs are going to … do something, I suppose. No one knows what, not even the DM.

These kinds of setups exist in other adventures as well, basically offering the DM a framework to use with his players’ PCs. I find many modules with that premise interesting, but The Temple of the Troll God was merely frustrating. It seems as if Brown wrote an adventure that was supposed to be both framework and a linear wilderness plus dungeon romp, but that half of the text got chewed up by a hard drive crash.

The execution of the rules is also a catastrophe, and there are many gigantic mistakes regarding monster stats and abilities. In addition to this, the writer consequently breaks the terms of the d20 license throughout the text. In addition to this, the amount of treasure placed in this adventure borders on the ludicrous.

What makes this offering so crushingly disappointing is the fact that several of the old AD&D guard were involved in its creation. I admired Timothy Browns work on Dark Sun, and always figured that Jim Ward had a lot going for him. But these illusions were backstabbed and disintegrated and then cast into the abyss. Temple of the Troll God feels like a quick hatchet job to cash in on the, at the time, very profitable d20 trend. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was revealed that the adventure was simply some discarded or even rejected notes from the AD&D era, dressed up in a tutu and brought to the prom, without Brown ever reading the third edition rules or the licenses attached to it.

Harsh? Yeah, maybe. I have read a rave review of this adventure on RPGnet, so there are people out there who disagree with my assessment. So should you buy it? Hell, yeah! If you can find it for a dollar, pick it up. There are several lessons to be learned from The Temple of the Troll God, and having it in your possession will give you new faith in the products offered for D&D and d20 today.


FAL Review: Death in Freeport

Death in Freeport is one of the earliest and most highly acclaimed d20 adventures. It is designed to fit PCs of first to third level, and written to accommodate a game master who is just getting started with leading the game. The adventure is a slim 32 page volume, well written with a clear and useful structure. The layout is clear and the pictures of slightly above average quality. All in all it is the text that makes this offering exciting, not the aesthetics.

DiF is probably best known for the fact that it launched the Freeport setting, an exciting pirate city which had solid support from Green Ronin for many years. Five pages are devoted to a general description of the city and its history. The plot involves the PCs in a mysterious disappearance and a conspiracy involving The Yellow Sign. Everything starts when they are hired to find a person, and they are soon set upon by furious orcs (who probably have very good reasons to bear a grudge against the PCs) as well as suspicious cultists.

The structure of DiF is strongly reminiscent of the classic Call of Cthulhu format involving plenty of investigation and questioning of different people who often have something to hide, as well as a mythical background that could be taken from Lovecraft’s mythos. The adventure is the first part of a trilogy but can be played separately if you are so inclined. The plot continues to unfold in Terror in Freeport and Madness in Freeport and the value of DiF is considerably enhanced if played as part one of the series.

When we played DiF we couldn’t really get into the atmosphere. The plot is very Cthulhuesque but the players were expecting a more standard D&D fare. This resulted in a mismatch of expectations, and the players didn’t really get involved in the story. I think it paradoxically would have worked better for us if it had been a Call of Cthulhu adventure, but as long as a game master is better prepared for this than I was, things should work fine. The only other reservation I have is that as five pages of 32 are devoted to describing Freeport, the adventure in itself feels a bit short.

I recommend Death in Freeport primarily to beginning game masters playing d20 and those who are looking for a change of pace from the ordinary dungeon crawling in D&D.