by Joseph Bloch
Published by BRW Games
Into the Great Rift is a compact, 18-page wilderness and dungeon adventure on the vanilla/utilitarian end of the scale, designed for AD&D (this of course means “Adventures Dark and Deep”, also by BRW Games), and presenting the first part of what promises to be an entire module series set in the Great Rift. This enormous, Grand Canyon-style depression is an untamed land of dust, shifting rubble and towering mesas, populated by monsters and bandit gangs, and overlooked by a silver mining town called Cleftwall – one imagines a little bit of Wild West in the middle of the setting. You could easily place the Great Rift in your own campaign world; and if that world were the World of Greyhawk, the map of the rift would neatly conform to the shape and size of the Rift Canyon in the Bandit Kingdoms, Cleftwall slotting into the place of Rift Crag. What an interesting coincidence!
The adventure site is more “place to visit” than “plot to follow”, always a refreshing thing. Quakes have opened up previously hidden cave entrances in the Rift, with promises of riches and mystery. Following a rumours chart with compelling entries and a very brief description of Cleftwall, the module is divided into two sections. The wilderness of the Great Rift is represented by a decent random encounter chart from prospectors and bandits to leucrota trying to lure in the foolhardy (some from the MM2, like margoyles and galeb-duhr), and a brief encounter key to 21 wilderness sites. This is a bit on the dry side, and more overview than detailed look – entries are often to the tune of “There are a number of worked-out mines at the base of the tor that are now home to various monsters”, or “The ruins of an ancient Phlen city built into the very walls of the canyon”, where something more specific and interesting could have been added. It is a promising base for your own imagination, but obviously requires some assembly – and in this case, as the Wilderlands shows us, a bit more specificity is what can set the imagination on fire.
The module’s main attraction lies in the New Caverns. The earthquake-opened cave system is a gridlike, three-level network of long corridors and generally small halls; not very impressive on a first look, but nicely spiced up with multiple entrances, level connections, and the odd multi-level cavern. It is an initially simple structure with more complexity than meets the eye. There is scarcely any empty space, however, which is a bit of a shame. The inhabitants consist of two intelligent factions; a derro outpost maintaining a slave mine and the depot for a flying ship (a nice touch of weirdness in what is a fairly standard “monster hotel” setup), and a gnoll tribe who have moved in to claim part of the tunnels as their own. Additionally, there are a few monsters drifting up from the underworld to fill up the space, including a spider lair, and a pair of ogre magi slavers intending to recapture “stolen” property from the derro.
This 49-room dungeon is kind of a mixed bag. It is at its worst when entries simply describe terrain instead of interaction potential. “The passage curves away lightly to the right, making it impossible to see into the cave more than 20 feet or so from the outside” – this is mostly evident from the map. There are occasions of background colour which will never be discovered by the players, and deliberately so. The derro leader (savant) “wears a signet ring with the symbol of the Red College, but no one outside the Derro would know the significance; it otherwise appears as an ordinary ruby ring worth 1,000 g.p.” Everything about this ring, its significance, or the Red College will be hidden from the players’ prying eyes, so the detail might as well be omitted.
The humanoid lairs are better – they are guarded appropriately, there are multiple access points (although almost all are narrow corridors), and the opponents have access to special forces with interesting capabilities, like the derros’ enslaved hill giant, or the gnoll chief’s hunting hyenadons. This is fairly standard AD&D fare, but well executed. I can’t help but think the best parts are the oddities, especially in the further, more out of the way corners of the caverns – a colony of cave-dwelling land coral, a mysterious iron head who will speak enigmas, or a cavern of living crystals. These underworld mysteries are outstanding, and we can only hope there will be more of them in further parts of this series.
Into the Great Rift is a decent modular scenario. Straight, to the point, modular – a bit lacking in the oomph that makes something truly great, but it squeezes a lot of stuff into 18 pages (the entire dungeon takes only six), and much of that stuff is decent. If you are looking for utilitarian campaign materials, or something to expand on, this is nice. You could even place The Bone Place of Drelb into the Great Rift. Why not?
No playtesters are credited in this publication.
Rating: *** / *****