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Reviews - The Last Dance
by Matthew Pook

The Last Dance cover Title: The Last Dance
Publisher: Atlas Games
Written by Chris Aylott
Illustrated by David Interdonato
Price: $9.95
40-page saddle stitched soft cover

A simple journey along a forest road at the height of Midsummer is broken by an encounter with a man imploring the adventurers for their aid. Unfortunately, he seems to be having some difficulty communicating with the party. Not only is he dead, but someone has also cut his throat and larynx! Which leaves gesture, which he seems to be capable enough at. So that leaves the questions of what sort of help he is after, and why does he want the adventurers to dance?

Thus opens The Last Dance, Chris Aylott's latest book from Atlas Games. After allowing us to run rampage with the Rune RPG adventure Crouching Wizard, Smashing Hammer, Aylott takes a different tack for this d20 System adventure. The Last Dance, written for four to six characters of fourth to sixth level, gives players the chance to solve an ancient mystery, stop an act of treachery and gain the favour of a King. And all they have to do is dance the night away... well, that and a little more.

Physically, The Last Dance is near faultless and up to the usual standard of presentation we see in the Penumbra titles. The choice of a very pale ochre hue as its additional color gives the book a very light feel, much in keeping with the mood and setting. David Interdonato's art adds to this, and while his style may not be to everyone's liking with the overly pointed features of his figure work, it again suits this adventure, adding to the slight alien quality of the situation.

Another nice touch is the fiction that opens each chapter of the adventure. Not only is it well written, but it also relates the experiences of several adventurers as they investigate the situation. The referee should be able to gain a greater feel for the adventure as he reads each of these pieces and hopefully use this insight when he runs it for his players.

A minor annoyance is the book's use of space, particularly the fact that the final two pages consist of advertisements for other Atlas Games books. Not that I necessarily object to these out of any principle, but since the adventure does revolve around an albeit limited temporal loop, I think that one of these pages could have been given over to some kind of flow chart or table enabling the referee to keep close track of the adventure's events with greater ease. The mystery and time loop are still explained more than adequately, but a visual aid would be helpful.

The Last Dance opens with the party heading down the road, instantly allowing this to be inserted into most campaigns. A beggar -- who turns out to be dead and has his throat cut -- implores them for their help. Once sure of the party's good intentions (that is, they are not just going to hack at him), he attempts to teach them a few dance steps.

Yes, I said dance steps. As incongruous as that may seem, learning these dance steps are essential to solving a mystery and righting a wrong -- and thus completing the adventure. Long ago, King Milleas of Dayvos attempted to forge a peace treaty with the Orcish tribes his kingdom had been fighting for years. The pact would be sealed through the marriage of the Kingís daughter to the son of the Orc chief, but on the night of the signing, an act of treachery and a spell gone awry caused the death of all involved and the endless repetition that night'ís events. The tragedy cut down the nobility of the kingdom of Dayvos and caused its fall into obscurity.

The beggar, an under-jester named Frog who served at the King'ís cour, discovered the plan as it was about to be enacted, but was slain before he could get out a warning. Frog will lead the party into the woods and through a strange mist to the very frontier fort where the treaty is once again to be signed that very night! Inside the fort, the party will find that the peoples of long ago were majestic, taller and nobler than those of their own time. Not only that, but in the great hall everyone -- both Orcs and nobles, seem to be dead. Some have died from the obvious sword and axe blows, but others appear to have died from exhaustion. If the characters should enter the Great Hall, music starts anew and everyone, including themselves will fall under the strongest of compulsions to dance. Good thing that Frog taught them a few dance moves.

Getting out of this strange compulsion lies at the heart of The Last Dance, and actually dancing is the key. This is not an adventure suited to clod-hopping Thrug the Mighty with his two left feet; in fact, the Dance skill is almost a must (giving an advantage to Bards). Suggested dice rolls are given for solving this problem, but experience points should really only be awarded for escaping the dance if the players work out the solution for themselves.

Once out of the dance, the party can begin to explore the fort itself. This is when another problem surfaces: as none of them speak the language of the kingdom of Dayvos, interacting with the inhabitants of the fort will prove rather difficult. Despite the added hurdles, characters must explore the fort, until they gather enough information to return to the great hall and stop history from repeating. The act of treachery that doomed the kingdom the first time is about to happen again, and the traitors will more than likely be aware of the party's intention to interfere. Another tough dance around the floor -- this time in the midst of combat and a race against time -- stands between the characters and success. If they fail, then they will find themselves joining the danse macabre.

Of course, The Last Dance is not the first scenario to offer this kind of mystery for the players to solve. For example, it is reminiscent of the Mobius Tower section found in the AD&D 2nd Edition adventure I5: Lost Tomb of Martek. But The Last Dance is far more enjoyable by comparison, carrying a high-spirited tone throughout.

This adventure is not for those that prefer dishing out slaughter over solving a conundrum or two. Nor is it a very long adventure, perhaps providing just a second evening's play at a stretch. The book provides a few new magical items (a Torc of Missile Deflection and the dangerous Moonstone artifact) plus a new monster (the Manavore), further allowing The Last Dance to stand on its own. The prevention of the fall of the kingdom of Dayvos will no doubt have some effect upon the timeline of the referee's setting, but what this may be is really left up to the referee to decide. Exploring these effects might provide the referee with an excuse to use the time-travelling clergy from Atlas' other d20 System adventure, The Tide of Years.

The Last Dance is an excellent and well written mystery of manners that will provide the players with an interesting challenge.

The author would like to thank Roj at Wayland's Forge for his assistance


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