Adventure Review: Illfrost: Bondage by Don Pritchett & Tom Flowers from Illusionary Press

It’s cold in Lannithir and the Ice Duke only wants to make it colder. The world of the Illfrost campaign, created by Don Pritchett & Tom Flowers for Illusionary Press, offers dangers both familiar and unfamiliar along the road from level 1 to level 30 in D&D 4e. But don’t let the fact that Illfrost: Bondage is a 1st level adventure fool you. You’ll need your wits to survive this one folks!

Before I dive into Illfrost: Bondage, I’ll issue a warning. There are some spoilers ahead. Not many, but a few. So if you’re a player who may be entering the chilly world of Lannithir at your game table, you might want to skip to the “[/End Spoilers]” section a bit further down.

[Spoilers]

When the adventure begins, the PCs are slaves. And some of them may have been slaves for quite a while. So if your players go to the trouble of buying items for their characters, you might want to suggest that might be overkill initially. They are largely uncovered and in the elements for the first part, and therefore affected by the cold. The PCs will
get a chance to meet the kind-looking NPC on the cover pretty early on as well.

Escaping from their captors and freeing any other prisoners, while trying to find enough equipment to help them survive offers plenty of opportunity for combat, scrounging, and a bit of a dungeon delve. The Temple ruins the PCs will need to explore to find any other slaves currently held by their captors. If not saved, the slaves would likely perish or be sold into even more deplorable conditions.

As the PCs dive further into the ruins, they will run into some solid encounters against both men and monsters as well as some cool traps. Honestly, for a first level adventure I was surprised at the depth of this adventure. There’s a lot here to play with, regardless of how the PCs approach things. If they go in swords slashing and stealth be-damned, they’ll have a harder time than going calm and careful, but they will find challenges either way.

There is a clear evil here by the way. The bad guys are bad. And though the good guys may have motives all their own, most are pretty good. The PCs however become very much a part of something bigger than they are, hinting at what is to come. That’s the exciting part for me personally. Sure, the adventure has some solid encounters that will be fun to work through, but Illfrost: Bondage serves as a perfect doorway to a larger world the adventurers will be exploring further.

[/End Spoilers]

Beyond the great story and well-defined encounters of Illfrost: Bondage, I want to talk a bit about the layout and page design of this 56 page PDF. This book was done in a landscape layout, taking advantage of the full width of an 11″x8.5″ page. The cover from Chris Quilliams starts things off in a snowstorm with a creepy guy with a sword and glowing orange eyes in cold-weather gear that really sets the stage nicely. Much of Quilliams’ art in the book continues to hint at a dark, icy landscape, which helps keep that cold, unforgiving world fresh in your mind as you read through the book.

The maps from Jon Roberts are what you would expect from Jon Roberts. They’re beautiful and easy to read. If you’re looking for bigger versions, you can pick them up separately – Fantastic Maps – Illfrost: Temple Dungeons and Fantastic Maps – Temple Approach are both available for download at RPGNow. (There’s even a pack that includes the adventure PDF along with all the maps.)

The content itself falls into a three-column layout with great use of headings, white space, box text, and art. The font size can easily be read on a PC or on a tablet (I read the book on my iPad 2 using GoodReader with no problems at all). I wish that there was a hyperlinked table of contents at the beginning so you could quickly hop to a particular section of the book (same with links between sections throughout the book), but at 56 pages you can flip through with little problem to find what you need. The writing itself is descriptive without being overly so, but clear and flows very well.

My one nit is that two different text colors are used – standard black for most of it and then red for text you should read to the players and any game-specific content. If you’re reading the PDF electronically, it looks great. But if you try to print it on a black and white printer, you obviously can no longer see the red text and the italics barely make the red text stand out from the rest of the text. The darker areas of the maps (blue oceans mostly) also become very difficult to read when printed. It would be nice if there was a print version as well as a full color version, as other publishers (like Raging Swan Press) have done.

Ultimately if you’re looking for a new campaign in a harsh campaign world, Illfrost: Bondage offers a great start. You’ll definitely need a copy of the Illfrost: Quick Start Guide to help fill in some of the setting gaps, but you get a great adventure to introduce your players to the world of Illfrost!

For more about Illfrost: Bondage, check out:

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