by Cedric Chin
The Master's Decree
Published by 3am Games
Written by Don Bessinger
Art by Kirk Kugel, Alex McVey, and Charlie Schultz
112 pages, b & w softcover
The Master's Decree presents six adventures centered around
eliminating kobold - and other - threats near the town of Westbrook.
This adventure book follows Westbrook as it grows from a small
stopover between towns to a trade city. The Master's Decree follows Beginnings:
Westbrook, which introduced Westbrook as a small town, but Beginnings is not
necessary to play the adventures.
Layout & Art
The book uses a familiar two-column layout, using white and shades of
grey. The grey is used for practical boxed text and tables, as well and
the atmospheric subtle "parchment" background. Small unobtrusive Open Game Content
sidebars mark OGC content. The font is pleasant to the eyes, and bold
lettering is used for important mechanics and details for the GM.
Monsters and NPCs have the standard statblocks. Chapters have been
"tabbed" on the pages, with the name of the lair in the upper-right
The art, by Kirk Kugel, Alex McVey, and Charlie Schultz, is standard RPG
game art. I particularly liked Kugel's "pencil" art of the NPCs in the
NPC Statistics section. Most art is full-page sized, roughly two pieces
of art for each of the six chapters. I'm not sure if they were intended
as game aids, but they can easily be used as such: Bend the book
backwards or photocopy the page, and hide the caption. Munchkins who
assume every visual aid is important may be thrown off by this
Setting the scene
The strength of The Master's Decree is its effort to provide a
backdrop for its adventures. Chapter One includes a host of NPCs whose
backgrounds and motivations are well-fleshed out - and differ.
Experienced GMs will recognize the political adventure seeds in this
section. Chapter Two then strongly develops the history and backgrounds of the
two kobold lairs in the forest - it's almost a pity the players won't
really get to know them. (A creative GM could conceivably alter the
adventure where the kobolds aren't the mindless killers the townsfolk
think they are, or even run the adventure from the kobold's
perspective.) Overall, there's plenty for the GM to pick and choose to
develop this adventure in one direction or another, anything from a generic hack-and-slash to
making the kobolds a catalyst for the internal politics of the town.
Chapter Three features three independent side-treks: an Ogre Lair, a
Pixie Glade, and the Spider's Cave. The Ogre Cave and Spider's Lair are
short combat-oriented adventures (CR3 or so), to fill up the last half
hour or hour of an evening's gaming. The Pixie Glade is more of an NPC
non-combat encounter, which may be tied to the Spider's Cave. Oddly, the
Spider's Cave contains a magical item worth over 125,000 gold pieces
(its magical abilities are unlocked as the character increases in
level), but you could always remove it and save it for a later
Meet the neighbors
The Itlik Igix, presented in Chapter Four, are a tribe of kobolds who value strength over cunning -
and severely overestimate their reputation. The background is an
enjoyable read - not only does it flesh out the personality of the
tribe, it tongue-in-cheek pokes at the hubris of these mighty,
cowardly, warriors. Look for the lizard notes, which say "30% chance
that the lizard attacks it (a kobold) instead". Unfortunately, the
kobold stat blocks are missing the class and level of the different
types of kobolds in the lair.
While the Itlik Igix may not to stray too far from typical kobolds,
the Axt Tekti (Chapter Five) are definitely different, with their magic and faction
in-fighting. The leader Rixt has cleverly convinced the rest of his
tribe that he can communicate with The Forest Lord, a deity of his own
creation (!). On top of this, on a raid of an abandoned monastary, he
found a magic circlet which he found greatly influenced his fellow
kobolds. But Tixit, another magic-using kobold, attempted to expose his
rival. The plan failed, and Tixit has fled to a watchtower close to the
humans. Rixt was attempting to hunt down Tixit. However he has been
sidetracked by his desire for more of a delicious human food: chicken.
The intelligence of Rixt has resulted in a lair full of the traps
kobolds are known for, and the use of poisoned darts. His interest in
finer foods led to the capturing of townsfolk children. Still, these are
kobolds, and it's a little sad to know their unique "civilization" will
flee from the PC adventurers.
The abandoned monastary found by Rixt is Githil Adlan, detailed in Chapter Six. Originally
devoted to the worship of nature, Adlan was abandoned and, generations
later, taken by the Hisrin Aroth. Eventually these dark priests were
slain, and the cult lost to history. The folk of Westbrook do not know
of the monastary, and it's up to the party to enter it. The crypt does not disappoint: it contains the
undead, magical beasts, and aberrations you'd expect from this sort of
The Master's in the details
The adventure maps are noticably computer-drawn, and placed in their own appendix.
They're quite legible, and a few may be usable as PC maps.
Given how well the rest of the book was laid out, I was actually
somewhat disappointed with Appendix B, which uses standard RPG statblocks for NPCs.
Personally, I don't like statblocks because they sacrifice readability
for compacting information. Particularly because no two NPCs are alike,
I really would have liked to see character sheets for the NPCs in this
section most likely to see combat (ie. NPCs you could give to the
players if they didn't provide their own characters). But this is my
personal preference, and the book does follow the widely accepted format.
Appendix C contains a miscellany of new monsters and items: The Fell
Template, for creating fallen versions of common animals; Illuminating
Manuscripts, books of great knowledge which will raise skill levels; the
Stonethrasher, a new beast; and Redrut, a poisonous plant used as an
Propping things up
The book also provides several player handouts. In addition to maps and a
summons, the handouts include colorful witness accounts of the
various creatures the PCs will face in the adventure. I really like this
format, as it gives the GM the option of using the material to run an
encounter with a witness, or simply handing out the dialog to the
players. This section also contains three magic weapons, receiving a
page of lore, art, and game stats apiece. Personally, I would have liked
the handout not to include the game stats, as the latter encourages
players to treat magic items like equipment, rather than relics. The
magic weapons are Death's Fang, a +2 dagger with additional properties
for sacrifices; Humhuzan, a +1 warhammer (+2 vs. Orcs); and Inathi
Olchelpa, a sword whose abilities increase based on its wielder's level.
The book ends with a one-page index, OGL license, and a breakdown of the
stat blocks in the back cover. I should mention that the book uses
a few creatures from Necromancer Game's Tome of Horrors and Tome of
Horrors II (Crypt Thing, Gutslug, Lurker Above, Memory Moss), and Atlas Games'
Penumbra Fantasy Bestiary (Hunter Bush), though neither is necessary to
run the adventure. Also, the book conveniently includes Condition
Summary notes, such as the effects of sickness, nausea, and being shaken
and frightened, where needed.
If there's any failing to The Master's Decree, it may be that its rich
background for the NPCs may be a juggle for the GM, and that of the
kobold tribes may be lost in a kobold hack-and-slash. But it's a
"failing" I'd like to see in more d20 adventures. I look forward to the
continued growth of Westbrook and 3am Games.