Review: Thrones of Punjar

This is more than a bit late, though in my defense I've been under the weather from a combination of a severe cold and term finals. Its become a kind of ritual where Red Jason goes to said FLGS, buys whatever Goodman Games merch is out, and dumps it on me so that I might analyze its contents for quality. Anywho, spoilers follow, so don't read this if you want to play it.

Thrones of Punjar is the newest DCC in line after Sellswords of Punjar and Scions of Punjar. Obviously it helps to have played the other ones, but if you havent there are ways to shoehorn your characters into the current plot. As with all urban adventures I've read, the author pulls you aside for a bit to remind you that since the adventure takes place in a non-traditional dungeon setting, that the characters will be forced to exercise some measure of restraint.

The backstory behind Thrones of Punjar is pretty simple: an aboleth has wormed its way into the sewers, and as per a world-domination clause in the aberrant origin it has its sights set on the city above. Frankly since its living a sewer this is almost understandable. The adventure wins points from me since it includes an aboleth. It would get a few more if it had an illithid, but aberrations are few and far between so I'll settle for what I can get.

The aboleth-whose-name-I-cannot-pronounce has spent most of his time enslaving people that decided it would be a good idea to go wandering in the sewers, and in general spending his time much like a less goofy-looking It. Eventually the aboleth pairs up with a noble who wants to use the cult surrounding the aboleth in order to bring shame to a rival nobility, which brings us to the start of the adventure.

The party can get drawn into the adventure through various ways. They can hear rumors about people vanishing and decide to take action themselves, but if experience has taught me anything its best to give them cold, hard incentive in the form of a treasure parcel and usher them out the door. These hooks involve a slumlord asking them to check out all the disappearances, but if you're looking for a more traditional approah they can get hired by an ambassador to go rescue his daughter.

Finally, if all else fails then a religious NPC can have them go check out a "haunting", holy water included.

The adventure covers the basics in that you get your typical dungeons to crawl around in, but there are lots of excellent opportunities to engage in social role-playing if thats your thing and the author even manages to find a way to squeeze in some variety between cultists and skum. The whole thing flows smoothly, but in case you get lost or miss a beat a handy flowchart in the back provides you with the most logical course of progression (though page numbers would have been appreciated).

This adventure, like many DCCs, has no shortage of elite and/or solo monsters. In practice these types of fights can be entertaining to a point, but quickly subside into mindless rolling without something else going on to spice things up. For example, the watery terrain from the crocodile battle in The Forgotten Portal added some tactical "depth" to the fight (har har). I would like to see combat encounters with more going on in order to avoid the 3rd Edition approach of surrounding a monster and beating it to death.

The main thing I like about this adventure aside from tentacled goodness is that it has a "hard" time limit: the party has two days to find the missing person before she gets killed. I find that in my games the group occasionally suffers from One-A-Day syndrome, where they go through all of one encounter before retiring for the...morning? Its like they get up, eat breakfast, have a 15 minute workout, and just dick around for the next 16 or so hours before they decide to get moving again. Well, that's a (sometimes) slight exaggeration: they typically plow through two before tucking themselves in.

A hard time limit you basically says that you get a limited number of extended rests before its too late, in this case two. This encourages care, but also pushes the tension envelope quite a bit as they are forced to press on despite dwindling healing surges and daily powers.

The adventure also uses an optional Notoriety system that effects random encounters and also triggers special events: as the party does more stuff to draw attention to themselves, the more likely shit hits the fan or that the important NPCs take notice of them, which could be seen as a more subtle "find the matching key to the door" plot device.

You don't have to use it and frankly if the party gets stuck I'd just move things along anyway: its not like World of WarCraft where they can bring up a menu that displays their Punjar Reputation score.

I'm looking forward to playing this, right after we manage to find some time to run Scions of Punjar between Scales of War and my own adventure path...I'm both overjoyed and seething with rage that for the first time in years I have more D&D than time, but I can only fault Goodman Games for providing more quality entertainment.

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