Adventure Review: The Tribute (PFRPG) by Carl Bussler from Timeless Adventures

Don’t you just love double-edged swords? You can swing them this way or that way and they do a lot of damage in the hands of someone who can swing them effectively. Unfortunately, there’s a downside… You can cut yourself just as easily as your opponent unless you’re really careful.

The Tribute, an adventure for four 7th level PFRPG characters written by Carl Bussler for Timeless Adventures, offers a great double-edged sword scenario for your gaming group. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, but the odds are your players will not be able to save the day for everyone. Hard choices must be made. And someone (or several someones) isn’t going to make it.

Wearing my GM hat for a moment, I love the concept. Knowing you have your players dangling uncomfortably over the horns of a dilemma offers a certain justice. And by level 7, I’m hoping the players have seen enough successes (and maybe even a few failures) that they’re ready to take on this kind of “Kobayashi Maru” setup without feeling slighted or misled. The subtitle for The Tribute might as well be “You can’t win them all.” And depending on the group, it could go multiple ways…

When the PCs come to Honningstad, the villagers are having a party. It’s the yearly “Feast of the Dragon” and the music, dancing, food, and ale are all flowing freely… until a badly wounded man stumbles into town with bad news. The tribute sent to the dragon at Fangcrag Keep has been waylaid and the party escorting the goods up the road are either dead or captive. And with the dragon not receiving the tribute, the village is in danger!

Will the PCs choose to save the envoy sent to Fangcrag Keep? Or will they go after the dragon and either negotiate a new bargain or slay the beast? Either way, there’s more to the story to explore and plenty of excitement as you go. Ultimately however it’s like the slogan for Alien vs. Predator – “Whoever wins, we lose.” Somebody’s going to get the short end of the stick.

When Carl dropped me a line about The Tribute a couple of months ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect. New publisher. Largely a one-man operation. I’ve read some things from other one-man shops that are great and some that have fallen short, either on ideas or execution. In this case, I was very pleasantly surprised. The story is great, the encounters are varied and interesting, and the PCs have their work cut out for them.

This 40-page PDF comes with beautiful full-color maps, some great art from artist Rick Hershey, and has some unique mechanics (which I’ll talk about in a minute) that really ratchet up the tension for the players. Is it perfect? No, but it’s darn close! I found a few minor editing issues (like wondering what words were missing from the description of Omen #24 on page 8), but found the writing to be descriptive and effective without getting bogged down in many of the details individual GMs will want to add themselves. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of description, just that Carl didn’t go overboard. My other (very minor) complaint is the lack of a legend on the many maps – I struggled to figure out what some of the letters meant like “T” (trap) or “S” (?) or “B” or “C”. In most cases, the letters are explained in the appropriate encounter descriptions, but the legend would have helped I think.

Let’s talk about that unique mechanic for a second… It’s called the “Scroll of Omens” and it is described as somewhat of a “doomsday clock,” counting down to certain key events and thresholds. For example, the further the players get down the path, the more certain some events will come to pass – either the envoy will die or the village will be attacked. And the fact that the players should be able to see the “scroll” just adds to the tension. As a player, I’d be constantly wondering “what does it mean? why does the GM keep moving the marker forward? what just happened!!?!?” It will work great to build the tension and reminds me of a similar mechanic in The Shotgun Diaries from John Wick.

In addition to the great adventure, you get full sized maps that accompany the PDF (as jpeg files), which makes it easy to set up for each encounter through the module. So with the included monster and NPC stat blocks and the maps, you have pretty much everything you need to run this out of the box (except for the core PFRPG book, but you can probably use the online Pathfinder site to get you through in a pinch.

Really I was quite impressed by The Tribute and look forward to seeing what else Carl has up his sleeve for Timeless Adventures. I wouldn’t mind seeing a 4E-flavored version of this adventure (just because I’ve been playing more 4E than PFRPG these days), but I think it would be fairly straightforward to translate (which may just prove my inexperience of doing that sort of migration!).

Pick up The Tribute at RPGNow/DriveThruRPG, and be sure to check out the Timeless Adventures website for news and updates!

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