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Traps, Mummies, Scarabs, & Tattered Undergarments

I am planning my next 5th edition D&D game to be a desert-themed campaign with pyramids, tombs, mummies, etc. and have been reading Egyptian and desert themed products to prepare my campaign. I’ve never run an Egyptian or wholly desert themed campaign before, so I have been looking for lots of inspirational fodder to read while planning. As such, I couldn’t resist picking up a recent Goodman Games module for 5e, Raiders of the Lost Oasis, a 2016 addition to their Fifth Edition Fantasy line of products (#6 in the line). This adventure, written by Chris Doyle, is for 4-6 PCs of 4th level and is set in a desert oasis in the middle of a glass sea! Does it offer anything I can use in my up-coming campaign? Let’s find out…

Spoilers ahead, read at your own risk!

What’s the Story?

The devout priest Ankhotep founded a temple to worship his ousted pharaoh, The Sphinx Queen. He created a tomb under the temple where he was to be laid to rest, and which would house all of the accoutrements needed for his journey to the afterlife. It would also be trapped so that tomb raiders could not rob him of his goods or desecrate his mortal resting place. Of course, his trusted master architect and trap creator betrayed him! After his death, the architect robbed his tomb and ran off with the priest’s wife, with whom he had been having an affair. The two of them trapped Ankhotep’s remains inside a sarcophagus with a liquid gold sealant, making him unable to take his afterlife journey.

Raiders of the Lost Oasis begins with the PCs captured by a band of desert raiders and thrown into a cell (of course this is the aforementioned tomb of the priest Ankhotep) without their equipment or clothing (except their tattered undergarments). The captors bring in sub-subsistence amounts of food once or twice a day and it seems like there is no relief for the plight of the PCs. Chained to the wall in a cell for several days, the monotony is broken when a commotion is heard far above the cell – whatever happened shakes the foundation of the building itself! The shaking has exposed an ancient secret door in one corner of the room and also allowed one of the PCs to get themselves free of their chains.

What follows is the exploration of a trap filled tomb while trying to find their way out. In tattered undergarments. With no weapons. And having already suffered one level of exhaustion. And recent sleep doesn’t count for a long rest since it was uncomfortable and the PCs haven’t had enough food… in other words, everyone is hobbled, even (or especially) the spellcasters!

When they get out they discover the cause of the foundation shaking commotion – a brass dragon who has killed and eaten most of their captors. They also discover they are in an oasis in the middle of an impassable glass sea. The dragon has their stuff in its newly acquired hoard and it destroyed the sand ships the raiders used to bring everyone across the glass sea.

Initial Thoughts:

There is little doubt in my mind that this is an homage to A4: In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords. I wrote a review of that module some time ago, you can find that here: Through the Darkness in a Loincloth. There are many elements that are very close to that classic, such as:

1) Main Hook: In A4 the party has been captured due to events prior to the start of the module – in this adventure the same is true, though there is no published scenario that is specifically meant to run prior to this one in a series, it is up to the DM to set it up in their campaign (and if I was running A4 without running A1-A3 first the same would be true).

2) Basic Setup: In A4 the party has been captured and they wake in a dungeon with only a loincloth and without good sleep (thereby hobbling the spellcasters) – in this module the same is true except they are chained up and their undergarments are quite tattered!

3) Format: A4 is split into two parts; the first half is getting out of the dungeon and the second is getting off the island – in this module the first half is getting out of the tomb and the second is getting out of the oasis.

4) Hardship Help: In A4 there is lots of advice regarding how the PCs could use the sparse amount of things found to create weapons and useful items – in this module the author provides a reminder in each room description of how the sparse things found in the tomb can be utilized by the PCs to help them survive.

Overall this adventure is well done, though short. It is intended to be a one-shot adventure and I think it succeeds at that endeavor. When I finished reading it I was mostly satisfied, and took note of several things I could incorporate into my upcoming game.

Good Stuff:

 Maps: The maps in this adventure are well done. They show the relevant oasis area as well as the inside of the tomb. All maps needed are included, large enough to read easily, and labeled & keyed well. They even include a side view of a room that has a trap that is easier to understand if you see that view of the room rather than just the traditional top down view.

 Traps: This is sort of a trap-fest tomb just by the nature of its size – it only contains 6 real encounter areas. Of those, 3 are major trap features, 3 have trap-like elements with creatures, and there are some trapped doors in various places. That is, a full 1/2 of the rooms contain major traps, but reading it did not feel like it was mostly traps – it felt like there was a variety of things to discover and interact with. It is a small tomb and 3 traps doesn’t feel like too much, especially since they are written well and their affects can be mediated somewhat by PC actions. One of the main traps has an Egyptian feel, using Ankh symbols in between dangerous warding glyphs. The traps here fit and they aren’t too difficult to puzzle through.

 Creatures: The creatures have a desert inspired theme throughout. The abilities of the creatures are very sand-centric rather than Egypt-centric, so the Egyptian vibe doesn’t overwhelm. The adventure features sand spiders, mummies, scarabs, and a sand-digger creature that is the 5e D&D version of the Pathfinder Dust Digger (from Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary 2). No scorpions, which feel like they should be a staple of desert tomb & pyramid adventures, but I guess you can’t have everything in a short one-shot length adventure.

The main villain in the tomb – the mummy of the priest Ankhotep – is formidable, especially for the beleaguered captives, but his power can be reduced via destruction of his canopic jars. These are the mundane clay jars that contain the mortal organs that were removed during his mummification process. Destroying them weakens him considerably. This is a nice way to make it easier for the party, and provides an opportunity for a scholarly member of the party to guess the nature of these jars and the power they may hold.

 Parley with a Dragon: The final foe in this short adventure is a brass dragon named Brazcamel. Brass Dragons are chaotic good and this could be a fun negotiation playing out at the oasis. There are several items that smart PCs could have taken from the tomb that the dragon would be happy to exchange for the PC’s equipment. It is also willing to exchange equipment for a task/labor. Depending upon certain PC actions, the dragon either starts the parley with an indifferent disposition or with a hostile disposition. This is a decent call out for the use of the Social interaction rules on pages 244-245 of the 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide.

I also have something else to say about this dragon. Its name is silly – Brazcamel – as in Brass Camel. This is an extreme missed opportunity! The designer could have had a huge flying camel creature as the main big-bad in this adventure?!? Of course they needed a dragon, but what a funny ending it would be to have a giant flying camel as the final foe. The chance for a new and whimsical, and possibly deadly creature in the adventure would have been refreshing! I know, I know, it’s Dungeons and Dragons but if I run this, it’s gonna be a giant flying camel.

 Reminders to the DM: Each room in the tomb provides advice regarding what random items can be used by the PCs to help them survive. Sometimes this is as simple as gathering wood to help make a fire, using small stones as sling stones, or picking up rocks to throw. But it also includes items that could be picked up and used as components for spells (e.g. sand for sleep or destroy water, a small diamond for chromatic orb, cured leather for mage armor, fleece for silent image, etc.).

Bad Stuff:

 Proof-Reading: This adventure has several grammatical errors that can mostly be overlooked, but are also obvious. Here is an example from the boxed text on page 5: “Furthermore, one of number has finally slipped his bonds.” This should say “Furthermore, one of your number has finally slipped his bonds.” As I said, easy to overlook, but obvious at the same time. The majority of these typos and grammatical mistakes do NOT obfuscate the meaning or intention of the designer, but occasionally it makes me scratch my head… Here is an example from page 11: “But water sources in the desert are rarely typically stalked by predators.” Well, which is it? Is it rare or typical for predators to stalk water sources in this desert? Remember this is a very secluded location, in the middle of a glass sea, so it actually isn’t clear whether this should be typical or rare for this location. Not a deal breaker, but it is annoying for a professionally produced and published adventure for which I paid $10.

 Editing: The editing in this module is not that great. On page 3 there are 3 paragraphs that describe adventure hooks and each ends with the sentence, “wake up shackled in a cell, wearing but a few tattered garments.” That sentence is also in the paragraph before the hooks but with the word undergarments instead of garments. It is extremely redundant feeling and some editing would have solved this issue without eroding the feel of dire circumstances.

Also, there is far too much info included that will never be known to the PCs. At least, the adventure doesn’t build in any way for the PCs to learn 99% of the backstory here, nor does it provide a way for the PCs to figure out things about certain rooms – and worse, they probably won’t care about the reason for a room’s current condition! This wasted space and information could have been better spent telling the GM how to adjust a particular challenge for a group that did not begin captured (which is the only hook that didn’t include the sentence about tattered (under)garments!). Here is an example of DM information given for area 1-2, which the players might find and search:

Lost Oasis page 7 wrote: When the tomb was first constructed, these antechambers were storerooms for mundane objects that the priest would need in the afterlife. Tomb robbers have long since removed anything of value decades ago. When the raiders arrived, they cleaned the chambers out and planned to use them to store loot or as holding pens for prisoners awaiting ransom.

I’m channeling Bryce from TenFootPole.org with this complaint, but literally none of the above paragraph is relevant to anything the players/PCs could ever find out, especially the portions I underlined! And it isn’t even written in an evocative manner to give the DM some inspiration for a description.

Here is the boxed text, intended to be read or paraphrased to the players, for the same room:

Lost Oasis page 7 wrote: With a heave, the stone door grinds open, revealing a plain chamber beyond. It appears to be an ancient storeroom, but it has been ransacked. A few broken pieces of pottery are scattered about the sandy floor, but there doesn’t seem to be much else of interest.

Yeah, call your editor and ask for a re-do…

 Pre-Gens: I really want some pre-generated characters tailored to this adventure for two reasons. 1) The PCs start the adventure in such dire straits – they are exhausted, underfed, deprived of sleep, are suffering the humiliation of being captured, and have no equipment to speak of, except their tattered undergarments. 2) This adventure was written as a one-shot adventure, playable in one session. I would really like to see the sorts of PCs that the designer intends to be used for this scenario – especially spellcasters.

 No Parley with the Raider Leader: When the PCs escape from the tomb below the temple, they can find the lone survivor of the dragon attack, Imhakor, the leader of the raiders. He’s not doing so well mentally, given that he’s just seen several of his comrades eaten by a brass dragon along with the destruction of all of his keelboats. The author says that Imhakor believes the PCs to be in league with the dragon, and so is hostile when he first confronts them. Then he supposedly parleys with the party. The advice given even says to “Allow the chance for the characters to convince him of their intentions” which can be a great scene! But then it quickly falls to: ”Ultimately he can’t be reasoned with” What the hell kind of parley is that? I have two questions about this set-up: 1) Why would they want to reason with a person who kidnapped them and threw them into a cell? This might be a reason to Not parley with the raider, but then again, the PCs might have already realized he might be able to help them cross the Glass Sea. My second question is… Why even allow the PCs to waste their time parleying with him if HE CAN’T BE REASONED WITH? That is crap and I really dislike it when a designer puts this into a roleplaying opportunity with an NPC. Why bother? I would let my PCs talk to him and find out as much as they can and possibly they could all band together to help defeat or dissuade the dragon, or avoid the dragon and get across the sea.

 Wasted opportunities: I see two wasted opportunities in this module. The oasis the PCs find themselves in is completely surrounded by a sea of glass created centuries before, during an elemental battle. Walking on or touching the surface of the Glass Sea is a very bad move because it carries immense heat. It is impossible to be in close proximity to the surface for any length of time without taking damage. And that is pretty much all we are told about the Glass Sea. I want more of this! I feel it a wasted opportunity to tell me this small amount, but then give the DM nothing else. I know the main focus of the adventure was not the sea of glass, but it IS part of the endpoint challenge, and I feel it deserved more.

The second wasted opportunity was at the location named the Pool of Reflection. It is a large crystal clear pool at the feet of a giant sphinx. That’s it. No other description for the pool since it is not really a focal point of the adventure. It’s actually lake-sized, though, according to the map of the area. Seeing as how it is crystal clear, there could be lots of things in there that might entice the PCs, entice the dragon, or act as mysterious artifacts, or just curiosities at the bottom of a clear lake in a desert oasis. I mean, why bother to name the thing “Pool of Reflection” if it isn’t going to reflect anything or allow anything interesting to be seen below the surface? Wasted. Opportunity.

Things to Watch Out For:

 Deadly Traps: The traps in this adventure are deadly. Tripping one of the aforementioned glyphs in the main Ankh-symbol trap room causes 22 (5d8) HP of damage and there are several of these glyphs there. The very next room has a three piece trap – or rather, a trap that has to be avoided, possibly, in two or three ways depending on how each individual PC reacts. These can cause 14 (4d6) damage (1/2 on a successful save) +1d6 damage, or 16 (3d10) damage (1/2 on save), and then 8 (1d10+3) damage (1/2 on save) +1d6. There are several elements here that must be avoided and it is likely that at least half the PCs will take some of the damage. The very next room can cause 2d6 damage and then 2d10+2 damage, depending on the circumstances. While all of these traps can be avoided to some extent, or found and disabled, the DCs for these procedures are pretty high (14 then 15 then 20 then 23) – these are 4th level PCs, so their proficiency bonus is still only +2 AND they have one level of exhaustion, so they are at disadvantage on ability checks (though not on saves). There is a very good probability that some (many?) of these will be missed. A 4th level barbarian who rolled max HP every level up and has a CON score of 18 would have 16+16+16+16=64 HP, but a 4th level wizard with max HP and 14 CON would have 8+8+8+8=32 HP. These HP are just being chipped away and chipped away and chipped away and the group hasn’t even met any creatures yet!

 How Egyptian Is It? Even though this is a desert setting with typical tomb creatures like mummies and scarabs, it isn’t extremely evocative of an Egyptian setting. There is no reference to any Egyptian pantheon, other than a couple of statues that have female bodies and the head of a cat (surely a reference to Bastet) but that have no effect on the adventure (i.e. they really are just statues). The tomb is in a temple, not a pyramid. There are hieroglyphs on a few walls, but no pictures of those and they are inconsequential to the adventure. There are frescoes that depict desert scenes with mummies and sphinx, but nothing that moves outside of the history directly discussed in the background, which isn’t much more than what I give you in the introduction above. That means that if a DM really wants this to be in a strongly thematic Egyptian desert game, they might have to play up these elements a great deal. I’m okay with this, actually, as I don’t care if the desert adventure feels specifically Egyptian or just what I might call generic-desert-like. Or perhaps the things that are there are enough? This is a question of taste, I suspect, and so YMMV.

 Download Code: I bought my dead tree version of this book from a game store and was pleasantly surprised that it had this on the first page: ”Get digital updates and corrections free! Use the coupon code below on this title at rpgnow to receive a free digital copy of this module plus any updated editions as they are published.” Except when I put my code in RPGNow tells me that my code is not valid for anything in my shopping cart. I sent an email to Goodman Games and they responded very promptly and provided me with a DL code for a copy of the adventure via RPGNow. In other words, EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE! Bravo Goodman Games!

Final Thoughts:

As adventures go this one is decent. It is short and easy to read, and offers several satisfying elements and a good, if not completely original, story. It feels like the Egyptian themed Pharaoh-based story has been done many times (though not for 5e D&D), so this adventure has some competition. If I directly compare it to another popular tomb-based pharaoh story, J1: Entombed with the Pharaohs, which one highly respected RPG reviewer called The best adventure Paizo has ever produced, it doesn’t quite live up to that, but that adventure was written for the 3.5 edition of D&D, so it would require conversion. In the next couple of weeks I will be posting reviews of several of these desert/Egyptian themed adventures.

In short, if you need an easily read, quickly digested, fast set up, 4-hour scenario for your 5e game and your players enjoy mummies and scarabs, with a dragon thrown in for good measure, this might be just the thing for you. It is $6.99 on DriveThruRPG.

 

So… that’s my latest review – I hope you enjoyed it.

Until next time, I wish you good gaming!

~DMSamuel

About

DM Samuel is the Editor-in-Chief here at RPG Musings as well as the podcast editor for The Tome Show. He is also a host of the gaming podcast Play on Target. He plays all manner of role-playing games and boardgames and continues to learn new games all the time (and new things about old games, too). Sam lives in Upstate New York with his wife and their game collection. You can follow him on twitter @DMSamuel.