Adventure Review: The Lost City by Logan Bonner from Open Design

Many moons ago,
I was addicted to games like Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment on the PC. The combination of strong story and adventure development led me to explore much of the Forgotten Realms over the course of days, weeks, and months, and enjoy the D&D-ish mindset playing solo. But it always seemed pretty railroaded down a pre-destined path of modules (even if you could choose the order of those modules). Once you got started, it was a headlong rush to the end as you worked your way from objective to objective to the conclusion.

On the other hand, games like Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion or Fallout 3 (each of which had me under its spell for months as well) have more of a sandbox feel with overall elements tying the story together. The world is alive and you can explore far from the beaten path or follow the clues to reach the eventual end of the main story lines. But these games feel more free than the earlier ones, offering a grand canvas on which you can paint your own adventures even though I’m sure much of it is scripted.

What does this have to do with The Lost City? Well, I have a love/hate relationship with adventure modules and setting supplements. If done well, they offer scripted roleplaying opportunities with a maximum of flexibility and don’t have that railroaded feel like you’re trapped in a book with specific plot points that you have to follow in a particular timeline to achieve. If not, you end up with an adventure more useful on the computer than at a gaming table IMO…

The Lost City from Logan Bonner and Open Design manages to avoid the railroad and achieve that balance of a sandbox world combined with scripted elements and locations that experienced gamers love. Sandboxes far too often lack direction for the players, leaving them rudderless in an endless sea of details. Bonner and the crew at Open Design manage to offer a huge setting that weaves in location-based plots and overarching themes without making it seem boxed in.

My only complaint is that it uses D&D 4e, which I’m not a fan of. But it should be easily converted to 3.5e or Patfhinder without too much trouble (or other systems with more work).

The Lost City is billed as “A 4th Edition Adventure for Paragon Characters Levels 14 to 17.” And this is definitely meant for high level characters. The encounters within these pages are not meant for amateur adventurers. If you go in thinking this is going to be a cakewalk, you might as well kiss those characters goodbye unless your GM is very, very, very kind.

Ultimately, it’s about – you guessed it – a lost city. The city is in a large desert somewhere (set in Midgard, but could easily be used anywhere else with a suitable desert environment). There are multiple ways in and some definitely cool things lying in wait – from ghosts and mummies to a race of lizard people doing the same job they’ve been doing for 500 years… Giants, bugs, mindless slaves, and – oh yeah – a godling waiting to be reborn. And did I mention that the city was flying before it crashed into the sand?

If you want combat, there’s plenty here. If you want exploration, there’s plenty of that as well – from the Phoenix Tower down to the Vault of Rebirth, there are huge areas to explore. What about NPCs with agendas? Yup, they’re here too. And the potential of a flying city isn’t lost on me either – how cool would that be. It takes the whole “mobile home” or “RV” idea to a whole new level…

I don’t want to spoil too much for potential victims explorers, but I have to mention one of the ideas I really loved. Remember the godling I mentioned? Well, there’s a group of immortals protecting her. If she is under a direct threat, they pop in from their home plane and save the day. I don’t recommend threatening the godling under their protection or you may not live long enough to rue the day. The concept of a group of immortal guards popping in at a moment’s notice is awesome. But I couldn’t help but wonder what they heck they do when they’re not watching for intruders.

Though it’s a bit like parts of The Mummy with Brendan Fraser when they start exploring the ruined Egyptian temple beneath the desert sand, The Lost City really has a unique feel to it. The artwork from Cory Trego-Erdner and Darren Calvert really enforces the Egyptian-ish feel to the city, as does the layout from Stephen Wark. The borders with repeated designs and the page background evoking a visual of the cracks formed in a dry mud flat combine to hint at both water and heat, which are in abundance in certain parts of the adventure. And as always, Jonathan Roberts’ maps were both cool and functional, continuing the visual themes of the book.

Like most Open Design patronage projects, Bonner wasn’t the only person on the project. He served as the lead and had help from a handful of other writers – Jobe Bittman, Michale Furlanetto, Tracy Hurley, and Quinn Murphy. I love the patronage/multiple writer approach because they have time to work out the kinks and get input from their target audience before the final result hits virtual & physical shelves.

If you’re in the market for a high-level adventure that will offer some challenges to your players as well as more of a sandbox-style design that can be expanded and explored for quite a while. The Lost City from Logan Bonner and the rest of the gang at Open Design should offer a serious challenge for even the most kick-ass party as well as some significant rewards!

Check out The Lost City at RPGnow/DriveThruRPG as well as from the Kobold Quarterly store today!

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