Throughout history, the concept of the 'lost city' has always fascinated... likewise generations of gamers have been drawn to explore by legend and rumour, right back to the Basic Dungeons and Dragons module B4: Lost City! Whether it's fame and fortune, mere survival, or some higher purpose, mention lost cities and adventurers will come in droves. This lost city is no different, and there are wonders to discover for those brave enough and skilful enough to explore.
The lost city of Kadralhu has much to offer the adventurer and much also to offer the gaming group, for it is presented as a 'sandbox' adventure, a setting with much to do rather than a single plotline to figure out. Whatever the characters' motivation for going there, wherever they venture once they arrive, there are things going on, things to discover, enemies to vanquish, allies to be made and secrets to learn. All that is visible is a small ruin protruding from the desert sands... but (naturally) all is not what it seems.
Chapter 1: Kadralhu provides the background explanation of who used to live here, and why the city is now 'lost' at least as far as the outside world is concerned. For survivors still dwell there, some following ancient patterns and others developing their own responses to the cataclysm that struck their city down. There are several parts to the city, each with their own stories to tell, and these may be explored in pretty much any order. The city has a long and eventful history that, once discovered, explains at least part of what it is today, and promises what it might become again, if the characters win through and choose to restore it to its former glory. There are eight major locations, described in following chapters, as well as numerous factions and groups amongst the surviving residents.
It is suggested that characters arrive at the city knowing little of what to expect, perhaps even coming across the ruins by chance when crossing the desert. However several hooks are provided ranging from the characters being asked to trace the source of contamination in ground water that's driving those who drink it mad to divine entreaties. Whilst there are riches to be looted and antiquities to be discovered, it is unlikely that most adventurers will have heard about them. The two settlements nearest to the lost city are outlined, with an extended adventure characters might wish to emerge and then return to the city several times before they are done with it... or it is done with them.
The chapter rounds out with extensive notes on the new races to be found here, each with an impressive array of sub-types, and complete with all manner of background information to enable you to play them effectively as far more than mere opposition in combat. There's monsters here too, sometimes the distinction is a bit blurred as to what is 'monster' as in creature and what has a little more in the way of intelligence. Put together it creates a unique microcosm of life, a unique ecosystem which more thoughtful characters may find intriguing and worthy of study, while more violent ones will find plenty to challenge their skills.
Next, Chapter 2: The Phoenix Tower deals with the ruins on the surface, all that is to be seen by the casual passer-by and the characters' likely point of entry to the city. A small, broken, slanted building on the surface is but the very top of what was once a high tower, but through it characters can descend and begin to see the scale of the city awaiting them. Not of course that it is that simple: the descent itself is fraught with danger even before they get to explore. Skill in scrambling as well as in combat will soon be called upon in the encounters within. Descriptions are atmospheric and intriguing, with plenty to keep explorers' minds busy as they plumb the depths, while each encounter is mapped and detailed clearly, making them straightforward to run.
Once the characters are in, Chapter 3: Impressions is designed to enable you to let them have a look around. Several themes run throughout the adventure, relating to the beings that are encountered - part of the challenge facing the characters is to figure out what they are and how to deal with them in an appropriate manner: if they get their approach right, they will win friends. If not... shall we say that a difficult task will be made even harder. Those which make a good impression gain tangible benefits over time, with clear rule mechanics to help you administer the effects. While clear, these are quite complex, so it is worth making sure that you understand them before the characters get this far. There's a lot for them to do, finding their way around and making friends (or enemies), but a collection of small encounters are provided for when things seem to go a bit slowly, as well as several major set-piece ones tied to certain locations.
Following chapters detail other parts of the city and what (and who) is to be found there. I won't go into details as many of the titles might give too much away, suffice to say that both locations and specific encounters are marvellously detailed, making it easy to make the alternate reality come alive for your players. Everything has its history, its reasons for being the way it is. Everybody that they meet has their own business to be about, that its clear that they will be getting on with even were the adventurers not around. Yet if the characters succeed in puzzling out the great secrets of the city, they can choose to restore it to its former glories, raising a deity in the process...
Many challenges that the characters face are tough ones and will tax even those of the designated levels to the utmost, however both brains and brawn will be needed to succeed. Parties who wish to fight everything they meet will likely fail, yet those who hesitate and are not prepared to fight and fight well will be overwhelmed. It's a balanced and rounded adventure, with scope for many different things, and one which should resound in the legends of your gaming group for many a year to come.
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Reviewed: 12 June 2011