“Thulian Echoes” by Zzarchov Kowolski
Disclaimer: I solicited Lamentations of the Flame Princess for a free copy of the Thulian Echoes PDF with the intent of writing up a review.
From DriveThruRPG’s description:
Thulian Echoes is two adventures in one! In the first phase, players take the role of pregen characters exploring the dungeon long ago… their actions recorded, so that the players’ actual characters can then follow in the footsteps of the previous characters and gain all the riches and magical secrets to be found!
Of my previous three reviews…
- Dangerous Space Jail by Phil Vecchione
- The Gnomes of Levnec By Zzarchov Kowolski
- Scenic Dunnsmouth by Zzarchov Kowolski
…two were for adventures by Zzarchov Kowolski. This review makes the count three out of four.
I will now do my best to avoid spoilers. Instead focusing on what I find fascinating about this adventure.
Zzarchov is crafting adventures that are more than backstory, set encounters, and random encounters. In Scennic Dunnsmouth, Zzarchov wrote procedures to transfer the knowledge components of the adventure framework to the GM.
In Thulian Echoes, Zzarchov focuses on the knowledge transfer of in-game information to the characters by way of the players playing different characters. From the introduction
…the journal of another band of adventures from over a thousand years ago who went to explore a location based adventure. The players are then handed a batch of pre-generated characters and get to play through the events in the journal.
Brilliant! Instead of spending time crafting numerous journal entries with hints and fluff, Zzarchov embraces the “show don’t tell” adage.
The trigger is when the characters study the journal. Not when they commit to the adventure. Yes, it is a bait and switch.
The first pass through the adventure is brutal. Disposable characters will die. And that is the purpose. However Thulian Echoes is not without sympathy.
Zzarchov recommends, for the first pass through, to provide a luck pool for the players. When a pre-generated character dies, the player can spend from the luck pool to avoid death. When the luck pool runs out…the journal ends.
This mechanism facilitates players paying attention and participating during practice. The mechanism is not used for the “real” run of the adventure. Players have hirelings and henchman to replace a deceased character.
While the players are exploring the adventure site, the GM is taking notes. Both action and inaction will impact the future state of the adventure site. And there is interplay with the alterations.
Once More with Feeling
Once the rehearsal draws to a close, the GM has a bit of work to do. There is a bit of dice rolling and review of the various impacts. It is best to do in between sessions, but could be wrapped up in 20 minutes.
The stage is then rebuilt.
For the second time around with the players’ actual characters, things have changed. A millennium has passed. The players can now witness any potential butterfly effect.
The first pass of the adventure is challenging. But nothing about the adventure forces the players to send their real characters through it. Through social engineering – attempting to succeed after previous failure – most players that I know would attempt to do it again.
There is an adventure segment that provides a procedure for dealing with extensive wilderness travel. In doing so Thulian Echoes avoids detailing an extensive set of wilderness encounters.
It is instead there is a distance tracking mechanism and a table for random encounters. The random table has the same structure as The Gnomes of Levnec random table:
- Roll a d8, d6, d4
- Consult each entry
- On doubles, triples, or max value there is a kicker
These tables encode enough information to make the wilderness travel interesting without chewing up too much time.
Jason Thompson created a gorgeous walkthrough isomorphic map for Thulian Echoes. Jason also drew the walkthrough maps of “Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth”, “Slave Pits of the Undercity”, and the “Isle of Dread”.
I found the adventure inspiring and interesting. I both want to run the adventure and take the procedures and work on my own. So for my purposes, Thulian Echoes is a resounding “must have”.
To Buy or Not to Buy?
Buy Thulian Echoes if you:
- Want an example of unique adventure construction
- Want a dangerous dungeon delve
- Are looking for your characters to explore a remote island
- Want an adventure you can run more than once – twice in fact!
- Think your players would like a second crack at something
Do not buy Thulian Echoes if you:
- Are looking for an urban adventure
- Are not willing to yank your player’s chains
- Know your players won’t be on board for playing different characters
- Don’t want to deal with timey wimey things