Sunday 14 August 2016

[REVIEW] Shrine of the Keepers

Shrine of the Keepers
by Jay Murphy
Published by Vanishing Tower Press

There is a recurring issue with swords&sorcery adventures: many of them don’t function on the game level. They try to conjure up the blood-and-thunder imagery of Robert E. Howard or Fritz Leiber, but all too often, the actual content is simplistic: one-room dungeons, lengthy exposition followed by three or four railroaded scenes, that sort of thing. It is as if all the effort was spent on the setting, and the gameplay was an afterthought. Shrine of the Keepers is an exception to this trend; a small S&S-themed temple dungeon that could easily double as the setting of a Conan story. In fact, Shrine of the Keepers seems to be a loving homage to the evil temple from Shadows of Zamboula with a few things shuffled around and the serial numbers filed off. This is not a bad thing.

Shrine of the Keepers
Shrine is a 15-page PDF, of which 6 are occupied by the titular adventure, including the half-page introduction and a full-page map. That’s not too much, but what we get is a compact and surprisingly useful mini-adventure which could be used with any common hook – got your purse stolen? The trail leads to the Shrine of the Keepers (this is the adventure’s default). Kidnapped dancing girl? The Shrine of the Keepers is to blame. A daring bet made by the tavern table? Let’s head to the Shrine of the Keepers.

Whatever brings you there, the two-level shrine complex is a nice mixture of colour, combat and exploration. There are enough traces of unsettling evildoing to make any adventurer want to bring down the cult. There are enough secret doors to let the shrine denizens ambush the party in grand S&S fashion. There is a lusty villainess “with the presence of a jungle cat” who introduces herself with “I am Thalis of Fhaddar. Are you mad, to come here?” There is an epic final confrontation.

Aside from the finale, most of the adventure could go many different ways, from stealthy infiltration to all-out assault. It accommodates different player approaches, and rewards quick thinking. It goes through the S&S playbook, and it will be kind of a “comfort food” to genre fans, but it does what it sets out to do. There could have been more of it, but it is good as it is. It could have been presented in a more user-friendly way (the Crypt Keeper – as he is called here – should familiarise himself with the text before running the module, and it is useful to mark up the map with enemy positions and such), but again, nothing wrong.

After the adventure, we get 6 more pages worth of extra rules and random tables for the USR (Unbelievably Simple Roleplaying) Sword&Sorcery system, none of them particularly noteworthy. Since the whole package costs a buck and a half, this is more of an observation than a complaint. There is a decent, functional adventure in Shrine of the Keepers, and if you need an evil shrine for a sinful fantasy metropolis, it is modular enough to slot into just about any S&S-themed campaign.

Rating: *** / *****


  1. Nice! I'd not heard of this one, thanks Gabor! :D


  2. Based on the text of the review, I was surprised to see just 3 out of 5 stars at the end. What would have take this module to 4 stars in your eyes?

    1. A three-star rating means a good, functional product, so in my mind, it is nothing to scoff at.

      But to answer your question, here are a few things which could have made Shrine a four-star product:
      - Adding a unique interpretation to genre tropes instead of staying within their comfort zone (the adventure really feels like a Shadows of Zamboula clone at times).
      - Making the shrine more mysterious, with more things to interact with and discover - as it is, it is a bit basic.
      - Expanding the lower floor, which is too short and too linear as it stands - it does not allow for the interesting infiltration and tactical problems which are found on the first floor. It is mostly a "charge in and duke it out" proposal.
      - While I am a fan of small, compact adventures, I believe it could have used a few more pages of content, which was dedicated to much less interesting supplemental stuff.

      Does this make Shrine a disappointing adventure? No. It is competent and it captures a S&S ambience. It would stand up well in play (I'll probably use it in a future campaign!). But it is more of a "this is nice" product than "okay, this is *really* good".