Game: Interludes: Sands of Pain
Publisher: Thunderhead Games
Review Dated: 13th, December 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 19
Average Score: 6.33
Interludes: Sands of Pain is a pre-packaged adventure for four forth level characters. It’s better than most published adventures for four forth levels characters insofar that throughout the book there are tips for increasing or decreasing the difficulties of scenes if your group of players are just off level. Sands of Pain is based in the Bluffside campaign setting from Thunderhead Games. It’s better than most campaign specific published adventures insofar that having Bluffside is an advantage but not an necessity.
I don’t normally mention text size and density so early on in a review (if I mention it at all) but I don’t normally find myself noting just how good the text density is in published adventures. The text size is small. In the greyed boxes in the first half of the book the text size is smaller still – the stats for thugs you’re not even using don’t dominate the page. There’s a section mid-way through the book when the two column layout becomes a three column layout. This is done so it is easier to find just what you’re looking for and it works. It’s not as if they’re trying to squeeze a playable adventure into just 32 pages either, Sands of Pain is 64 pages long. Half the book is made up of appendixes.
It’s a lirtle strange. Brief Expeditions to Bluffside, the first adventure in the Interludes series, was set outside the of Bluffside but was used as a good scenario for people on route to the city. Sands of Pain, the second book for Interludes, starts off in Bluffside and then hurries the party out and off elsewhere. I think that’s a bit of a risk. It could be that the more experienced GMs may deliberately want to engineer enough adventures in the city to root the characters interests there before considering trip off to the wilds. I would have looked first to a pre-written game set solely in Bluffside before I wanted one that takes the party outside. On the other hand, there’s more to the campaign world than just the city and adventures like this are a good way to bridge the gaps between places of interest.
If you’re reading a review of an adventure then you shouldn’t be worried about spoilers. Sands of Pain deals with a desert culture, people who ride camels, wear turbans and have a different culture from the people of Bluffside. Sands of Pain deals with an extremist civilization hating faction within the desert people. Oooh-kay. I suppose this is a bit like running a game back in the 70s or 80s that was set in a large empire run by a corrupt few, where people call each other comrade and the PCs find themselves having to steal some important weapon secrets and make it back to the West safely. It seems all too easy to read in references to current affairs into Sands of Pain – and that may or may not be a bad thing.
I find pre-written adventures easy to pick apart. One of the weakest parts of any pre-written adventure is that it tends to be inflexible. Sands of Pain make us of “Theme Boxes” and these try to provide some more flexibility. I’ve already noted that throughout the adventure there are notes on how to up or down power combat encounters – that’s one use of the theme boxes. Other theme boxes offer up alternations to make if the party is particularly magic-user heavy, supported by many clerics, full of rogues, strong fighters or even blessed with an ample quota of psionic powered characters. It’s great. It’s just a small touch but it’s enough to start the process of lifting Sands of Pain up and out of the mire that is “yet another pre-written adventure”. One quibble with the theme boxes is that the “Pits and Puzzles” gauge is described as being appropriate for parties who like to role-play. Um? Sure enough the logo pops up when there could be hidden traps in the ground or ways around fights. The logo never appears to suggest a detailed history for an NPC or a tricky ethical dilemma that’ll have the characters in a heated debate for hours and risk exposing one of them as rather less innocent than she pretends. It’s good enough though since the Pits and Puzzles box appears at suitable pit or puzzle points in the adventure.
I like rumours in games, especially in city-based games. It’s great if the GM can include the “word on the street” bit in their game or reward players who actually go out and ask questions with answers. There are loads of rumours in Sands of Pain. Rumours are a great aid to flavour. There are aids for crunchier sides to the hobby to; there are plenty of mini-maps suitable for GM but probably not players. DC checks for important dice rolls are easy to spot in their light-grey boxes at the side of the page. There is an awful lot of information packed onto any given page in Sands of Pain. This makes for a slightly fiddly read. It is easy to miss when an optional scene ends and backbone plot scene begins. I normally sit down, skim quickly through a book before reading it over the course of a night or two. I couldn’t do that with Sands of Pain. The book is just too tightly packed for any kind of meaningful skimming. This is good news for people after value for money products ($US12.99, btw, and with today’s exchange rates even I can work out that that’s Euro12.99). If you’re going to GM from the book then read it thoroughly first. Sands of Pain is not something you can pull off the shelf and run without preparation. Fortunately, author Jeffery Quinn is good at getting all the information needed into stat boxes and notes clearly and succinctly.
Half the book is appendix material. This space is used wisely. The first appendix summarises interesting places in a trading post the players will end up in. The second appendix has six monsters (one of which can be used as a character race) and a small collection of weapons and equipment. There are a good number of illustrations of creatures in this second appendix too. In many ways the second appendix is quite successful as a mini-beastiary. Appendix 3 is for the stats of important NPCs and doesn’t skimp on detail. Appendix four has some photocopy ready player handouts and appendix five some maps.
I don’t hide the fact that I’m not a big fan of pre-written adventures. Any adventure rated by me and compared to other possible purchases on the market that doesn’t get a below average rating is doing rather well. Sands of Pain does rather well. The adventure’s strengths overcome the weaknesses and there’s the potential to spin it out far beyond the scope of the book.