Rob Conley was nice enough to give me a review copy of his PDF and hardcover OD&D-compatible adventure/sourcebook Scourge of the Demon Wolf. I've given it what I consider a fair review, but if you consider reviews of comp'ed copies to be unfair/biased/otherwise not worth reading, feel free to skip this. But I'm reviewing it on what I consider its merits.
by Robert S Conley
76 pages (70 with content, 1 with the OGL, 5 blank)
Price: $15 (Lulu or RPGNow softcover) or $10 (RPGNow PDF)
Scourge of the Demon Wolf is a combination adventure and sourcebook. It's basically a beginning adventure for OD&D, plus a detailed writeup of the area if you want to stay there. It's more T1 The Village of Hommlet than B2 Keep On The Borderlands, though - more setting than actual adventure. That's not to say the adventure is thin, it's good enough to keep a group occupied, but the recurring part is the setting not the adventure.
The book is broken into two sections that operate independently. The first the the titular adventure. The second section is the gazetteer of the area. You really could use the adventure without reading the second half of the book, and vice-versa. They work well together but you don't need to.
The adventure itself is investigating a group of killer wolves attacking folks in the area. Naturally, it turns out they aren't just any old wolves (the "Demon Wolf" part should give that away). The adventure gives you a lot of different ways the PCs might get involved. Once they do, it's an interesting combination of a sandbox and a plotted adventure. Locations are basically triggers - go there, stuff happens, and that triggers other effects elsewhere. Eventually you'll find the demon wolf and fight the big fight, assuming you investigate well. This is all put together well, too, although it did occur to me that my players would immediately jump to "first thing, go search _____ and then question _____" and there isn't much to stop them from skipping a lot of investigation that I can see. Still, there is a lot to do and a group can handle things in very different ways and still get to deal with the story going on around them.
The book's layout is good - you rarely need to page-flip to run an encounter. However, it does occasionally explain concepts (viz, prices in d) after explaining how to substitute them out if you don't use the Majestic Wilderlands supplement. It just makes you look forward and then look back, which I hate to do in a book.
Another interesting bit is "Rob's Notes" - little pieces of boxed text telling you what he learned playtesting the adventure with multiple groups. Some are really helpful, some just feel like filler (do I care that groups fought well or which place they went first in the village?). Some bits in the actual text feel like these notes. But overall, it does give you a much better feel for how the adventure plays, so taken as a whole the notes are a positive addition to the book.
The second half of the book is a detailed gazetteer of the area. It's well written, it has visual snippets of the map next to the discussed locations, and it's got pictures of the important NPCs you can show to your players. It's well written and looks easy to use.
The only real niggle I have with the adventure is the culminating fight and its lead up. It isn't exactly clear to me why the bad guy's friends would shield BG from the adventurers, which they do at first. Or why the BG would go off an fight instead of trying to either slink away safely or just try to plead error and leave the PCs with the quandary of "how do we deal with this?" BG runs away and sets up for a big showdown fight because . . . ? The confronted villain drawing down on the PCs always seems like handing the usually murder-happy PCs in an RPG an easy out. Still, that's easily fixed by anyone else who feels the same way.
(Editing later: the author wrote designer's notes to explain this after seeing my review - these go a long way towards addressing this issue.)
There is a good amount of art, as well, with pictures you to show to the players. It's pretty good, although oddly, the old wizards in the area look just too young. I can't say why, but I felt like there were all pictures of kids dressed up as old wizards for Halloween rather than old wizards. So I'd be careful using them just to avoid making my players stop playing to goof on the "kid" wizards. The pictures of locations, critters, and props are great, though.
How is it for GURPS? For a DF game, wolves are an underpowered enemy - they'd be pretty easy to slaughter. Dire wolves, maybe, but animals tend to do about as well in GURPS as they'd do in the real world trying to bite armored adventurers. Even a demon-wolf. The other big bad in the adventure could be scaled up, of course. For non-DF fantasy, say 100 to upwards of 150 point PCs, this would be ideally powered. Not too tough, but risky fights, and easy to lose control of if you don't use your heads. Plus the adventure has lots of places to use non-combat skills and abilities, and even chances to negotiate, defuse tense situations, or role-play out interesting interactions. I think Rob Conley has said it was based on a GURPS adventure he ran before he wrote it for OD&D + Majestic Wilderlands, and it's totally believable that this is the case.
Content: 5 out of 5. Complete, solid adventure, and all you need to use it.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. Attractive artwork, but for some reason most of the character portraits didn't strike me as right for the NPC's descriptions. Spelling errors and some odd spacing after periods exist but don't detract significantly from the product.
Overall: If you need a starting location for a faux medieval fantasy game, with lots to do in the area and a basic adventure to get started (and establish some interactions with the NPCs), this is an excellent supplement. It's also good if you just need a village for such a setting and its surroundings. Very well put together, easy to use, and attractive. Good stuff.