A Review of the Role Playing Game Supplement Vaults of Madness

Vaults of Madness is the fourth, #40, module in the Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path from Paizo Publishing. This is the next in the series after City of Seven Spears. The module is written for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and, as such, is covered by the Open Game License with some parts considered to be Open Game Content. The adventure is written for characters who are 10th level at the start and who should be near 12th level by the final part, prior to continuing in The Thousand Fangs Below.

The adventure is available as a PDF from the Paizo site at the regular price of $13.99 but was purchased at the reduced price of $10.49. It can also be purchased as a softcover book, primarily now from sites such as Amazon. The PDF is the version reviewed and has 97 pages, of which two are the colour front and rear covers, two pages are the inside covers featuring writings and sepia-toned illustrations of flora and fauna, two pages the front matter, one page the Table of Contents, one page the Open Game License and upcoming releases and one page an advert for fiction.

Vaults of MadnessThe Foreword is a simple two-page introduction to the module.

Vaults of Madness is the adventure itself. As in the previous adventure, it focuses on the city of Saventh-Yhi, although this time mostly in areas underneath it rather than on the surface. The Adventure Background gives a detailed description of events leading up to the fall of the city 10,000 years ago and there is a brief summary of the adventure.

Part One: Intrigue in Saventh-Yhi gives an overview of the seven vaults and shows their locations on the city map. There are details on the Midnight Spores, which helped cause the fall of the city and are the reason why the term ‘Madness’ is in the title and how to cure paranoia.

There are then six events. The first deals with the Pathfinder found at the end of the previous module and how to cure her, and get the information she knows. The next three events deals with a change of leadership in one of the other factions, said factions attack on the players’ camp and retaliation against the faction. Finally, the last two events deal with the arrival of the Gorilla King, an Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom style feast and the challenges he poses to players.

Parts Two to Eight each describe one of the seven vaults, which are beneath the city and are now rather the worse for wear. Six of these need visiting in order to recover the crystals needed to activate the portal in the seventh. Each vault is essentially a mini-dungeon. Each has different occupants and different challenges, but all have Midnight Spores in them. One vault has a new artefact.

Finally, there is a brief paragraph on concluding the adventure by repairing the portal in one of the Vaults in order to proceed to the next module.

Charau-ka is a section on these ape-men who will have been encountered several times so far; they controlled one of the city’s districts and are the main forces of the Gorilla King. There is an overview of the ape-men, their ecology, habitat and society and how to use them in a campaign.

Dungeon Deathtraps expands the traps from the core book with some new mechanisms and new. complex and larger traps.

Bestiary starts with some more random encounters and ambushes for Saventh-Yhi before continuing with descriptions for five new monsters, two of which are definitely inspired by African folklore.

Plague of Light: 4 of 6 – I Must Die continues with the fiction.

Finally, Sample Characters has the pregenerated characters once again, raised to a higher level.

Vaults of Madness in Review

The PDF is well bookmarked for its length with major and minor sections linked. The Table of Contents only covers the major chapters. Navigation is therefore above average. The text maintains a two column format with a colour background and there are many colour illustrations appropriate to the text, as well as colour maps. Presentation is as a result above average.

The adventure is really a collection of minor dungeon crawls, with some associated events, rather than a single adventure. The play is fairly, but not entirely, sandbox in nature, and it will probably help to have the previous supplement to refer to, as much of it will involve traversing the city.

Regarding the events themselves, one of the background features and one of the events seem a bit odd. The Midnight Spores, which cause madness, seem a little too unstoppable. The artefact found in the vaults will cure the effects of the spores, but only once per year per character, and they can get reinfected. Normal methods don’t work for dealing with them and the probability is that some, perhaps all, of the characters will have gone somewhat mad by the end of the module, madness that will probably require time to cure.

The encounter with the forces of the Gorilla King, and the challenges he poses that need completing before the final vault can be entered, seem pointless and overly difficult. The king appears from nowhere (he has been referenced, but largely for the GM’s sake), plonks himself in front of the final vault, offers the characters a near-poisonous feast and then needs two of three very difficult challenges completing (and this is something that is even stated as being out of character for the king, who is a demon-worshipping dire ape with a love of violence) before he will allow passage. Alternatively, his, fairly significant, forces will need defeating. If the challenges are completed, the Gorilla King leaves peacefully. Why? Why is he even there in the first place? He seems to add nothing to the story and the whole encounter just seems designed to deliberately and pointlessly irritate players. Maybe the Gorilla King has relevance later, but at the moment he doesn’t.

The vault guarded by the Gorilla King’s forces is intended to be the last one visited by characters who are by that point at the highest level for the adventure, although it’s not clear how this should be managed. Perhaps by rationing the information given to players.

The dungeon crawls are interesting, but perhaps a little illogical in nature – admittedly, that’s often a problem with these. Each has some, comparatively minor, forces in them, with a small number of encounters. Access to most of the vaults is now easy to achieve, yet most residents have stayed put or very few outside forces have entered.

All in all, Vaults of Madness seems like a bit of a filler adventure intended to slow players down from starting on the next major trek without really accomplishing anything significant yet having problems doing so.

 

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