Savage Tide Review #1 – There Is No Honor
Back in the olden days of D&D 3.5, well before Wizards of the Coast forced them to build their own version of the rules to compete, Paizo was content to run the venerable Dungeon and Dragon Magazines. They maintained them more or less as TSR always had, with the occasional sop to other gaming companies and their products, but focusing mainly on selling D&D books to people that already knew they wanted more.
It was within the pages of these magazines that Paizo patiently honed their craft, almost as though in preparation for the schism that would propel their company into the big time. Starting with Shackled City, they built complex strings of adventures into full campaigns, taking adventurers from 1st level all the way into the epic range at 20th. Before the license for the magazines reverted to Wizards of the Coast, they had managed three such early Adventure Paths, following Shackled City with Age of Worms and concluding the twin magazines’ run with Savage Tide.
Savage Tide fascinated me. I remember paging through Module X1, The Isle of Dread, back in the day, fascinated by the ideas of it. Included with the Expert Set D&D Rules (the Basic Set Rules covered levels 1~3, and came with a copy of The Keep on the Borderlands), it took the adventurers on a sea voyage that brought them to an unexplored island on the southern edge of exploration. If memory serves, it had been set in Mystara, the default setting for all things involved with BECMI D&D. Therein, the explorers dealt with dinosaurs and a scattering of weird, unplayable races of native creatures. Generally, it was a showcase for hex-based wilderness adventuring, setting it apart from the more dungeon-based adventures of the Basic Set.
And Savage Tide was Paizo’s attempt to bring it all back home. They’d moved it from Mystara to Greyhawk, built out the progression to offer a lead-in to the great southern expedition, and finished it out with a multi-planar climax to depose the arch-demon responsible for the underlying conspiracy.
Why did this interest me? Well, I’ll be honest. Every single module in the series had one element that I absolutely adored. No matter how the rest of the path fell together, no matter what sort of dull as toast dungeon crawl was put in to fill space – there was always some element that I absolutely wanted to run, somewhere in the module. This is not to say that the modules were bad, by any means, but there is a bit of a formula to many of them.
The first adventure in the series starts off simply enough: The characters are tasked with resolving a minor dispute between a noblewoman and a corrupt harbormaster. Naturally, this whole affair sets the stage for greater intrigues, as there are other factions and interests moving against the noblewoman, even as the characters get involved.
From there, the characters accompany their patron to retrieve the family fortunes from the city vaults (most of the reason she wanted to settle the dispute with the harbormaster was to retrieve her father’s signet from the ship held by the city), only to discover that someone had already looted her inheritance. The game was afoot.
Together with that month’s Dragon Magazine, the players were given a pretty well detailed rundown of Sasserine, the southern city founded as an outpost for the more civilized lands to the north. In the scope of Greyhawk, it was hell and gone from anything remotely cosmopolitan, sitting on the edge of the Amedio Jungle. For my purposes, setting the game in Paizo’s Golarion, it ended up in Eleder, the southern port city on the edge of this world’s untamed jungle continent. Any amount of reading showed the general lack of concern within the Paizo staff, as both cities shared very similar origins and traits. Both were established as frontier settlements centuries before, largely abandoned by their colonial masters, and take their names from the women whose acts of bravery allowed the cities to be founded in the first place. The only serious difference lies with the respective sizes of the cities themselves, as Sasserine is about twice the size of Eleder, a difference that I assume is due to its role in the Adventure Path as the home base for the player characters.
The only downside to any of this is that, by its very nature, the characters are only going to be able to spend a couple of levels wandering around Sasserine before they have to set sail for the unknown. Sasserine is extremely detailed for the purposes of setting, and in proper Paizo fashion, filled with all manner of possible intrigues with all of the various factions that the players are allowed to join up with. And being that half of the second module takes place outside of the city, the actual time spent in the city amounts to being a module and a half. As of the third module, the ships have set sail for adventure and whatnot.
In the scope of There is No Honor, there are what amounts to be two dungeon crawls. I found the second one, set in the underground warrens of a small thieves’ guild, to be somewhat tedious, as only a couple of the encounters served to actually advance the plot. (This was where I dropped a couple of hints to my players, advising them to put out the money for a judiciously applied Wand of Sleep to speed the adventure on.)
In comparison, the first one is still muttered about in hushed tones and undisguised scowls.
Upon discovering that her fortunes have been plundered, the characters’ patron, Lavinia, sets them on the trail of her estranged brother, Vanthus. As they’re to find out, Vanthus was specifically responsible for the ill fortunes that have befallen Lavinia in recent months, starting with murdering their parents and culminating in stealing everything that he could lay hands on. Lavinia, for her part, wants to redeem her brother from whatever evil he’s doing, but this ends up being a short-lived goal.
Tracking down Vanthus, the characters are lured to an old smuggler’s den on one of the unclaimed islands in the city’s harbor. Once there, they are trapped inside the network of tunnels by Vanthus, who kills the informant that led them there, tosses his body down the hole they’ve descended into, cuts the rope and rolls a boulder over the mouth of the hole itself.
It should go without saying that the players are bent on revenge from this point forward.
What follows is a harrowing exploration of undead ridden warrens, disastrous encounters with flesh-eating crabs, and a daring escape through a submerged sea tunnel into the bay. Along the way, they find the corpse of a former ally of Vanthus, whose hand-written note swears revenge from beyond the grave. If they could have managed it, my player characters would have made this guy their patron saint.
There was an interesting sort of unstated mechanic in the module, where it became a better option for the characters to rely on Armor spells rather than actually invest in physical armor. Most of the adventure takes place around open water (not counting the escape through 70 foot of underwater tunnels), so a character in any sort of armor would be at a serious disadvantage. The module provides a Wand of Armor early on, and it isn’t until some point in the fourth module that the characters started needing to actually invest in real protection. Even then, they’d come to rely on Cloaks of the Manta Ray (one is found during the third module, thereby showcasing its utility), so as to minimize the danger of trying to swim in armor.