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Reviews: Queen of Lies
 
by Joe G. Kushner


Queen of Lies coverQueen of Lies
Written by Monte Cook
Published by Fiery Dragon
48 b&w pages
$10.95

Fiery Dragon continues to push out quality D20 modules as evidenced by Queen of Lies. Designed for 11th level characters, the adventure pits the party against the powerful dark elves of Fiery Dragon's Karathis setting, forcing the characters into the Netherdeep. Queen of Lies is broken up into four chapters with numerous sidebars and appendixes for the GM to review before play.

Before carving into the meat of the module, the book lays considerable groundwork. The introduction tells the GM what level the adventure is for, as well as what other resources are needed. A section on preparation provides new GMs with ideas on what total party levels should be in the group, as well as some suggestions on what classes and races are ideal. An adventure background sets the module up for GM consumption as it provides details about the Netherdeep, including information on dark elves and mind flayers. It's a brief section but introduces the main plot points, which are more fully described in an adventure synopsis. A section on setting the stage is very important for newer GMs as it gives them some ideas on how to incorporate this module into their own campaign and how to begin the adventure.

Dark Plotting
The plotline seems simple enough. A church has been broken into, people killed and kidnapped, holy relics pilfered. The characters' task? Find out who did this (the dark elves, judging by the cover) and return the relics. Oh yeah, if any of the kidnapped people survived, bring them back too. It's helpful that the city thus victimized is a nameless city, and the church of Aesthan can be easily replaced with a god that one or more of the characters worships or is even a cleric of.

The party's investigation shouldn't take too long, especially once they gain the ear of Rhescan Amberlord, one of the prominent elves of the city. Rhescan provides a vital piece of information: Ul-Drakkan, a dark elf city, is rumored to lurk below the city itself.

Monte Cook does something here that I've never seen in an adventure: rules for the characters to take an armed force with them. They gain some forces from Rhescan, but with a Diplomacy skill check, can recruit more. This force, made up of elves and human warriors, and the number of soldiers they gain is based off the party's diplomacy skill check total, the higher their skill check, the more troops they gain. This looks like it'd work great for other similar situations for those who don't have the leadership feat. Information on paying and maintaining the troops, and how the GM should play them, gives the GM an opportunity to show why low level characters should rarely travel with higher level ones. Or, if the NPC troops are lucky, how they can showcase real bravery in the face of overwhelming odds.

Once the party starts down the road to Ul-Drakkan, they'll find that the Netherdeep isn't a kind place.

The dark elves may ambush the players or poison the only water source for miles. The party will have to fight through the three level watchtower manned to the gills with dark elf sentries and their spider servants. Other story threads, like a chance encounter with a pair of dark elves, provide characters the option of using guile and stealth to infiltrate Ul-Drakkan. I was a little disappointed in the random encounters for the Netherdeep, as most of them are with dark elves, leaving little variety to the module. Where are the mind flayers, gray dwarves, gnomes, slimes, and molds that make their home down below?

Ul-Drakkan is located in a huge cavern guarded by a fire giant and his bugbear elite. It's not really a city so much as three colossal towers where the dark elves have carved out as their home. Once inside the city, depending on how the players manage to sneak in, they'll find that there are events afoot that require the GM to keep careful track of things. For example, there are three different stages of alert that the city is on depending on what the players do.

The players, if wise, will have an opportunity to explore different parts of the city, at which point their troops may come in handy to create distractions on the outside. Most of the dark elves are no match for the party individually, but in groups, the dark elves will easily decimate all but the highest of level. Players will have to decide if they wish to sneak or fight their way through the city. A few encounters offer the players options to disguise themselves and a few of the NPCs will be willing to negotiate with the characters to further their own plots.

But what does the GM do if the players don't go to the towers but explore all the side passages? They could burn out the Fungi-Forests, free the slaves, slaughter the barracks soldiers, and kill the hieractosphinx mounts without approaching the towers themselves. These events have to be considered, as the players might be able to do certain things without getting caught, but not others. The natural environment itself must also be played upon as the character's aren't in the open wide wilderness, but underground in a dangerous environment. One of the nicest things for me personally about this module is that due to the tower nature of Ul-Drakkan, the area is relatively small and perfect for breaking out my Dwarven Forge sets. The only problem is there are a lot of angled rooms on some levels. If Fiery Dragon is smart, they'll make a set up with Dwarven Forge with recommended sets and show photos in work. Of course to use dark elves, you've got to go with the excellent Reaper ones, the mediocre and recently cancelled Chainmail miniatures or have the older Ramf ones.

There are numerous NPCs that the GM has to keep a handle on, which might overwhelm an inexperienced GM. To start with, there's the main villain of the module, Alevolenz, a female dark elf cleric with a sinister secret. Other dark elves abound: the albino wizard Intalequi; Zahnivil, a strange dark elf whose combined wizard and monk skills make him dangerous and different; Aralian, a high level fighter; and Eilos, a powerful fighter/wizard with his own agenda. Some additional NPCs aren't dark elves at all, like Tessandra, a succubus who is the chief torturer of the dark elves and Eilos' lover, or the mind flayer Minilir, an experienced sorcerer disguised as a dark elf and rumored to be Alevolenz's lover in this guise.

The problem with so many NPCs is that there are a lot of options for characters in the D20 system and NPCs, if not outfitted with similar options, tend to be much weaker than players who have access to things like the Quintessential books, Path books, or other "official" sources. This makes me think that in some cases, the basic stat blocks, recommended feats, and a section that provides the GM with an idea of what this character is supposed to be, i.e. an archetype like sniper, blademaster, or the like would in be better than providing full stats.

A flow chart of possible events would help GMs move through this module. Ul-Drakkan isn't a dungeon, so various individuals could be in different areas depending what the players do. A larger map of the dark elf city would also be helpful, as would single listing of all the major NPCs with their main goals and motivations would be helpful.

Appendix 1 is a collection of general monster and NPC stat blocks. Appendix II provides the stat blocks for featured characters including Eilos, Alevolenz, and the fire giant guardian, who also has levels as a fighter.

Appendix II, "New magic items & monsters," includes a Staff of Dread Power (a great tool for necromancers everywhere as it can animate dead, slay living and create undead), web armor, armor made from spider webs, and the Pot of Curses, a pot that can cast, yes, the Bestow Curse spell. The lone monster described here is the Arachnemass, a living swarm of spiders combined into one "composite entity" that moves like an ooze.

The art, by Claudio Pozas, Tori Brine and Jay Stepehns, is good and brings life to the dark elves. For an example, look at the back picture which features a dark elven priest at the Fane (yes, that strange Monte word again) of the spider goddess. The front interior cover provides the GM with a brief run down on what the module is based on plot, and mood, as well as a challenge rating tracker table. The rear cover features an ad for Beyond All Reason and the Psionics Toolkit. I prefer it when companies have to use use ads, that they place them on the interior cover.

Queen of Lies is a great way to bring the dark elves into your campaign. Monte doesn't take too many liberties with the "traditional" dark elves, who still worship a spider goddess and serve evil, making the adventure easier to adapt into any D&D campaign. Experienced GMs will fair better with the various factions than inexperienced GMs, who may want to read through the module a few times and make their own aids to help speed play along.


 

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