|Tar Pits of the Bone Toilers
by Aaron Fairbrook (Malrex)
Published by The Merciless Merchants
Strong and compelling imagery is the foundation of good fantasy: start with a great image, and the rest will follow naturally. This is an image-based module. The bone toilers, stocky extraplanar Neanderthals, are excavating a series of jungle tar pits for the myriad fossilised bones trapped therein. Creaking primitive machinery, bone toilers dirty from the grime of their work and shouting incomprehensible gibberish at each other; sweltering tropical heat; and enormous piles of bones carted off for unknown purposes towards the bone toiler’s fortified camp. Hell yes there is a good potential for action in there! (As long as the players don’t start cracking non-stop Flintstones jokes, which is a credible threat.)
Images are not all. There is a good exploration-oriented adventure behind the core idea. A jungle canyon meanders through the landscape, opening into side areas forming their own mini-adventures. This is the hub-and-spokes structure so popular in CRPGs, and it works admirably well. It is satisfying to enter what amounts to an overland dungeon, and find it littered with smaller dungeons. There is a variety of places to explore, from ruined villages to interconnected cave systems. It is fairly combat-heavy, with large groups of powerful opponents almost everywhere.
The encounters are a good mixture of the naturalistic and fantastic: the module is well grounded in its jungle exploration themes, while offering wondrous magical enigmas on the side. There are also sufficient intelligent NPCs and monsters to interact with, from a camp of looters who are over their heads to the duskwalker, a company of mysterious beings opposed to the bone toilers’ plans. The central point of interest, the bone toiler’s bizarre mining operation, is an interesting challenge in the vein of the G series – the opposition is numerous and powerful, and a combination of action and stealth is needed to win the way. This place was perhaps a bit too heavy on the bone motif: when everything is made of skulls, they lose something in the bargain.
The module’s writing is an effective, tight mix of game information and catchy descriptive detail, but lacks the polish of The Red Prophet Rises. The maps are lacklustre. I got a printed copy from DriveThruRPG, but the print is blurry and the maps are hard to interpret (particularly the Canyon itself). The Canyon’s scale is off – a minor thing, but there is no way those squares are only 10’. Finally, while I am usually the last to complain about layout, the haphazard way in which (often barely related) stock art was dumped through the module is an eyesore. As a trade-off, the content is good, and there is a useful sheat sheet with monster statistics that fits on a single page.
Tar Pits of the Bone Toilers is a good sword&sorcery module that stays true to the themes of the genre while translating them to the language of games. It is well worth owning.
No playtesters are credited in this publication.
Rating: **** / *****