Posted on February 15, 2010 by Michael Brewer
Available at RPGNow.com
When I first saw Goodman Games’ D&D 4e adventure, Death Dealer: Shadows of Mirahan, I had mixed reactions. First, I love Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer. I’ve seen all the Frazetta paintings, read the novels by James Silke, collected the comics written by Glen Danzig, and bought the Molly Hatchet album with Death Dealer on the cover when I first saw it back in the 80s (it was actually released in 1978).
However, the gamer in me balked. I was wondering how they could pull off an adventure about the Death Dealer without having the nearly omnipotent figure overshadow the player characters. There is only one Death Dealer, and surely the players would not be playing as the legendary anti-hero. I was also wondering how the adventure dealt with non-human races (I couldn’t remember reading about elves and dwarves in the novels).
The adventure is actually adapted from the Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer miniseries from Image Comics by Jay Fotos, Nat Jones (of 30 Days of Night fame), and Joshua Ortega. And in true gimmicky comic fashion, even offers an alternate cover available only through your Friendly Local Gaming Store (though I can see it on the PDF I was given).
A demonic army of undead, the Shadow Horde, is spilling out from Edani across its border with the Kingdom of Oro through the Cascada Pass, threatening to devour everything in its path. The heroes have responded to reports of unrest on these borderlands and find themselves trying to hold off the vanguard of the Shadow Horde in a ruined fortress as Edani refugees flee from the rampaging zombies. The next portion contains spoilers, so possible players should skip ahead to the New Mechanics and Pre-gens section.
This first chapter, The Siege of Cascada Pass, cannot be defeated in the conventional sense of slaying all enemies. Instead, the PCs must hold out for 30 rounds of combat employing smart tactics in a defend and retreat strategy. I like the idea of unwinnable encounters, but find they usually irritate players when such encounters have been thrust upon them. There is no end to the monsters of this encounter and there are guidelines to use when the PCs have been too successful.
The next leg finds the PCs fleeing the horde they just tried to stave off in the mountain pass, which becomes a Skill Challenge. If spotted, they are rewarded with an additional encounter before reaching the second chapter, the Eternal Forest. This chapter kicks off with a Skill Challenge for finding a path through the forest. Success means they don’t encounter any Shadow Horde Outriders before they reach the Ruins of the Old Ones. Once they make their way through the ruins, they find a druid ally who can send them to the Angra Swamp to summon the Death Dealer so he can lay waste to the Shadow Horde.
The final chapter of the adventure, Rise of the Death Dealer, begins with the PCs in a Skill Challenge to navigate Angra Swamp while eluding the Shadow Horde in order to strike at their master and free the Death Dealer. A single failure results in an encounter, the more failures the PCs earn the more resources the encounter will likely burn up. A complete botch of the Skill Challenge results in a full assault on the PCs by the Shadow Horde and its leader, Dazaka, making it unlikely for the PCs to survive the adventure.
Should the PCs win, well, you need to pick yourself up a copy to find out how that turns out. I will say, there is an appearance of the legendary force the setting was created around.
New Mechanics and Pre-gens
Appendix I of Shadows of Mirahan introduces five specific [human] races of the Lands of Iparsia. Each culture gets their own stat block and inherits the bonus at-will power and bonus feat from the 4e core Human race. It also presents two work-arounds for using non-human races in the world of the Death Dealer. One idea is just to accept that non-humans exist (which doesn’t keep with the current canon) and the other is to treat them as frightening monsters.
The first appendix also introduces two new Feats, Weapon Mastery and Defense Mastery. Weapon Mastery gives a player character a bonus to attack and damage rolls with a weapon type that scales with tier. Defense Mastery gives a player character a bonus to AC for a particular armor type that also scales with tier. I can see both Feats being valuable to players.
Appendix II introduces three advanced rules. The first is a modification to the use of Action Points. In Iparsia, PCs may spend Action Points to avoid the secondary effects of Critical Hits (another new rule introduced) and may spend up to three Actions Points during an encounter. The second appendix also introduces four tables, one per weapon group, to determine secondary effects for Critical Hits (piercing, crushing, slashing, and eldritch). The final rule grants a cumulative bonus to attack and damage to PCs for every milestone met through combat, which is lost after an extended rest.
The adventure introduces new monsters throughout the adventure and provides a collection of Shadow Horde undead in Appendix III. The monsters are decent, but don’t really do anything innovative. They also provide stats for the Death Dealer and his steed in Appendix VI. These stats are interesting, but are rather useless since the adventure is not made to employ them.
Appendix V introduces five seventh level pre-generated characters for the PCs to play, a druid, rogue, warlord, ranger, and fighter. These characters are all human and all but the rogue are male. I like that they included pre-gens since I get the feeling that this adventure is meant as a one-shot (especially since it is made for characters of 7th to 9th level).
Layout & Design
I did not have a physical copy of the book, so I cannot attest to the physical quality. But having encountered many other products from Goodman Games, it should be better than average. Everything is pretty easy to read, though I would prefer the page background texture to be lighter where the text resides. The headings and boxed text can be found quickly. The art is simply fantastic, as it was sourced from the Image comics and rendered by Nat Jones and Jay Fotos. I could do without the blood splatters at the end of each section.
I really dig the isometric maps, which remind me of the excellent renders from I6: Ravenloft, but I think the adventure could have benefited from full size (tear-out or tiles) encounter maps. The isometric style isn’t conducive to tactical combat play and all the maps were meant as reference rather than to be used.
My only other complaints are that I think they could have made the monster stat blocks easier on the eyes by implementing alternating color rows and some hyperlinks would have made navigating the e-book easier.
If you’re 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons group are fans of Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer or of the Image Comics miniseries, then this adventure would probably be a good one-shot to play in between larger campaigns, especially at a $10 price point. The adventure has heavy-handed direction, but it’s hard to avoid when adventures are adapted from existing stories.
|Mechanics:||3.0||I like the critical hit tables and feats, but there is not anything ground breaking here.|
|Illustration:||5.0||The art is awesome!|
|Layout:||4.0||I have some minor gripes with stat blocks and hyperlinks, but overall the layout is good.|
|Editing:||5.0||I didn’t note any spelling or grammatical mistakes as read, which is amazing.|
|Value:||3.8||It’s a one-shot, but it’s the Death Dealer, and $10 isn’t bad for 98 pages.|
Note: Scores are out of a possible 5.0 points.
Review by Michael Brewer