"A new trade route is being sought through the Dalgarian Canyonlands, pass the friendly Kharazan, Village of Plenty. But the last two expeditions have never returned and the merchants are getting anxious for the new route, causing bags of gold to exchange hands.
Meanwhile, the ancient portal, the Maw of Ghormaug, has opened once more and invaders, ‘bone men’, are beginning to take over territory. No one is safe. Left unchecked, these lands are destined for horror and ruin, unless a brave party steps up to the challenge.
An adventure for Levels 5-8 for Labyrinth Lord and other OSR rulesets."
Disclaimer: I was sent a PDF coupon on OBS to review this product. The link below is also an affiliate link to help me buy stuff to review. Some spoilers ahead!
- Although a little heavy on combat, the Canyon is an interesting place. Fellow looters can be befriended, saved from various calamities, or killed for their treasures. The dressing is nice. Roughly 11,700gp and a couple magic items are scattered about in the Canyon.
- The Lizardman Crypt is a small location that may net close to 9,000gp and a few magic items. There's nothing really unique about it, but it's well-designed, overall. Beware the boss, though!
- Kharazan (formerly the Village of Plenty) is a wretched place haunted by the undead. Only about 1,900gp is found here along with a nice magical spear - however, the large number of undead creatures (even if low HD) could pose a challenge to careless parties.
- Caverns behind a waterfall contain another 1,100gp of treasure and a cool magical sword (and possibly some ore to be mined). Plus there's a fountain of youth in there!
- The Bone Toilers' fort is very dangerous. The inhabitants are well-organised, so disguises and/or blitzdelves are necessary for success. The fort and the caves together hold roughly 18,500gp worth of treasure, and a handful of strong magic items (most of them unique). It also has the Maw of Ghormaug, which needs to be destroyed to stop the inevitable spreading of the Bone Toilers' influence. The other side of the gate is to be detailed in an upcoming product.
- Beside the fairly general hooks, there are some options that completely turn the tables by reframing the players as members of one of the active factions.
- The major areas feel distinct both in terms of dressing and inhabitants.
- The creatures' activities are always spelled out in the description. Immensely helps with bringing the place to life.
- Even if fairly simple, the layout of the Crypt is satisfactory (except maybe for areas 5 and 6; but then again, not every room has to be groundbreaking).
- The magical items are fairly vanilla in abilities, but they also have colour (e.g. the Jovial Assassin is a short word +1 that chuckles after a killing blow and glows red for an hour). It's the good kind of vanilla.
- There's a mimic. And it talks trash.
- There's a simple but effective table summarising daily events within the fort.
- Several prisoners can be freed (including a minotaur).
- Various compositions of opposition in the fort and its surroundings.
- At the end, there's a monster index listing numbers and stats ordered by location.
- The maps are easy to follow and usually graphic enough to jig the reader's memory when navigating it.
- It looks a little verbose on my screen, but when I break it down, it looks like this: circa 18,000 words, covering 64 areas, 6 new monsters, and 9 new magic items (plus summaries, background, and random tables).
- No oxford comma. Yes, I'm that kind of person.
- A few typos here and there.
- It's very hard to quickly separate stats and descriptions in the random encounter tables.
- The dungeons are described in appendices (meaning that Appendix A begins on page 8 in a product of 29 pages). More surprising than annoying, really.
- Most hidden treasure is the "hidden in the cave" or "under the debris" sort.
- The way to close the gate (i.e. the Maw of Ghormaug) is a little anticlimactic for me.
- Room numbers and names aren't distinct enough (monster names preceding stats and treasure listings all share the same spot in hierarchy as it stands).
- The layout is generally clean, but the images sometimes interfere with the columns, result in shapes a little unpleasant. A few times short paragraphs or final bullet points fall onto the next spread.
To sum it up, Tar Pits of the Bone Toilers is a fairly gritty fantasy adventure with a lot of bony imagery (the toilers are mining bone using giant bone cranes, and they make armour and weapons and decorative items out of bones). It's a little low on social interaction and puzzles, but the themes are consistent, and the different areas require different approaches from the players. It's definitely something I can see myself adding to my own campaign. The Merciless Merchants is a publisher I'll surely keep an eye on in the future.