Monday, July 20, 2009

Review: Domain of Evil

I remember the corner snipe on this adventure distinctly—announcing in bold black and red type against a yellow background: For veteran Star Wars player characters. This intrigued me, since all other adventures for the game had been somewhat ambiguous about what 'level' the player characters were (in fact, I've always found it an easy thing to scale the difficulty of these adventures up or down to match the party).

The plot is actually pretty straight forward—the players, pursued by a team of ruthless bounty-hunters, crash on the swamp planet of Trinta. There, they discover that they are 'not alone'. A fallen and insane Jedi lives here now, at the heart of a Nexus of darkside force power. The characters soon find themselves struggling against the hunters, the real dangers of the swamps and the twisted visions visited upon them by the now dark Jedi—Halagad Ventor. The climax of the adventure takes the party into the Dark Nexus itself—where they must each face a test of their spirit before even being able to face the master himself.

As far as a premise goes, Domain of Evil has a great one. It is very much like an elongated version of Luke's own 'test' on Dagobah—where he went into the 'dark tree' and battled 'Vader'—only to find himself behind the mask. It is a nice touchstone to have in a campaign—making your PC's journey seem almost parallel to that of Luke and the other Heroes. In fact, I recall placing this adventure close to the Empire Strikes Back timeline in my campaign, just to further reinforce this feeling.

Along with the main plot, many of the encounters and obstacles are memorable as well. They are made more so in that 'real' encounters are mixed in with horrific, illusionary 'dark visions' that seem real. This helps to keep players off balance—something that is important to a horror plot (which this adventure truly is). 

One of the more memorable 'dream visions' was the seemingly cliche encounter with the 'friendly native tribe', who invite the players back to their village. Once the players are enjoying the welcome feast, however, the scene begins to warp subtly. Out of the corner of their eyes they see the 'natives' slowly changing into hideous, fanged beasts—and the very food their eating, first appearing as luscious fruits, is now revealed as musty, rotting fungi. But just as the PC's take action, the whole scene vanishes, leaving them out of sorts in the middle of the swamp night. So right here the PCs get an inkling of what they're in for—and its made all the more unnerving in that it DOES start out as a cliche, but is rapidly turned on its ear.

Other memorable visions include an encounter with a band of rotting, undead Jedi knights, (rising up out of the swamp waters to do battle) and an  attack by a Rancor—which almost caused one of my players to commit accidental IC suicide when he first tried to 'disbelieve' the illusion then (after his arm was 'torn off') decided to try to nobly sacrifice himself by being swallowed with a live thermal detonator. Thankfully, he fumbled the detonator (which was not illusionary) before he could use it.

Interspersed with all these 'dreambeasts' (as the adventure calls them), are very real dangerous monsters and the band of persistent bounty hunters who are till on the trail of the heroes. Again, I found this mix of real and imagined threats a great way to 'wear down' the players as they approached the climax of the adventure—both 'in character' (emotionally and physically through injury and use of equipment) and stat-wise (draining force and character points). And to make matters MORE interesting, even the 'illusionary' damage had a very real effect, draining a character's force and/or mental attributes until, when they were all gone, the character is driven into one or another form of insanity. All in all, it was a great build-up to the final encounter of the adventure.

Unfortunately, the ending of Domain of Evil is both its best and worst point. This was one of those 'if I had it to do all over again' moments for me when I look back on it. The idea was that as the players enter the Dark Nexus to face the fallen Jedi, they each have a personal vision which tests them morally and spiritually. This SOUNDS good, of course, but truthfully, a lot of the visions seem (again in retrospect) so generic and OBVIOUS that it takes what should be a very dramatic scene and makes it a bit... well.. silly. For example, one of the suggested visions gave you the choice of either saving or abandoning a bunch of children as stormtroopers charge in to gun them down. Gee. Wonder which one of those decisions gets you a dark-side point? Failure of these tests means the character might possibly fall to the Dark Side (which will have consequences in the final encounter...)

What I would do differently now if I could would be to throw out these generic tests and dig deep into the backgrounds and emotions of the players to come up with something that actually meant something to them on a personal level. Exactly what that would entail I'm still not sure of. But it is what I'd do if I got to run the adventure again. 

In any case, once past the test of character, the stage is set for the showdown with the Fallen Jedi, Halagad Ventor. To the credit of this adventure, there are two ways to resolve the situation—redemption or death. Redemption is the more heroic method, but not all parties might take it. Death is the simpler solution, it seems, but carries with it a possible complication—any characters who fell to the Dark Side during the tests will be lost forever if the Halagad is slain (if he is redeemed, then fallen characters are automatically saved along with him). 

So, I've done a lot of talking about the plot and encounters, but one more thing needs to be said about this Adventure, and that is the excellent interior artwork provided for it by Allen Nunis. It is consistent and evocative throughout, with some truly memorable scenes rendered (most notably the 'undead Jedi'). A lot of Star Wars adventures are rather hit-and miss with their internal artwork. To me, this one was a definite hit.

And now, back to that snipe on the corner of the module cover—the one saying that this was for 'experienced' Star Wars characters. I guess everyone has a different definition of experienced. In my campaign, I found I had to bump up the stats of the NPCs—particularly of the Fallen Jedi Halagad Ventor—quite a bit to be a threat for my PCs (who had been gaming solidly for a year and a half by this point). So, from an attention-getting perspective, the snipe was good, but it wasn't exactly what I expected.

In closing, I would like to say that I highly recommend this adventure—but I would also urge GM's running it to give a lot of thought to the climax and work to tailor it to their particular player characters—or at the very least come up with some less obvious moral choices.

1 comment:

  1. This one is universally reviled as the least-favorite of every group that's gone through it- it's spoken of with groans ("Ugh- that one with the swamp planet was the WORST!"). Usually it is attributed to that Rancor fight, and how many point the PCs burn or lengths they go to to try and defeat it before finding out/confirming it isn't real. :-)