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July 8, 2011

Going Ape! Review

It has been a looong time since I did an adventure review, but since Going Ape! is supposed to use some new-fangled adventure format I wanted to check it out. That, and the girallon mummy (unrelated, I remembered the name and spelling without having to look it up). It is a Heroic adventure for the level 5-7 range with some minor sandbox elements, and is the only 4th Edition adventure that I can think of where characters monkey around in a jungle, making it ideal for use in Eberron (though it would work in Dark Sun or the implied setting just as easily).


SPOILERS


A king in the unspecified past used music to lure citizens to him in order to leech their lifeforce, granting him an extended lifespan. Eventually, one of the queen’s figured this out and killed him with poison–presumably one from an older edition that inflicted ability score damage–but she got caught and was killed. Since the king didn’t exactly set a noble precedent when he was alive, the city was eventually destroyed through a combination of internal strife and anarchy. Now the city is regarded as cursed, and no one goes there…except when they do.

Cue Yayauhqui, a witch doctor from one of the local tribes. He exiled himself after he wouldn’t stop going to the City That Shall Not Be Visited in order to find a way to restore his people to greatness. While exploring the city, he found an amulet that contained a fragment of the king’s life force and managed to learn the luring song. He used it to draw one of the chieftain’s daughters to the city, but instead of being killed by the apes was crowned queen by them. The crown, containing the will of past queens, made her believe that she was queen of the city and that the apes were here subjects.

Yaya used the distraction to sneak into the king’s tomb and put the amulet on his corpse, apparently thinking that resurrecting a dead king whose hobbies included using necromancy to drain the life from his own subjects was a good thing. He accidentally mistook the mummifed corpse of a massive four-armed monkey to be the king, which might have actually been an improvement, presumably fleeing after asking the king how he got an extra set of arms, and getting a hollow “ook ook” as a response.

And this is about where the characters show up: the chieftain of Jocotopec is worried about his daughter, and wants them to go into a haunted, ape-inhabited city to get her–just without lasers or Tim Curry.

Now that is a Superior weapon worthy of a feat slot.

I noticed right away that everything is divided into events, whether they are role-playing or combat encounters. It reads kind of like a choose your own adventure book; at the end of event 1, it tells you to go to event 2 if the players go to the other village, or event 3 if they head directly to the cursed city. There is no large heading text for setup, tactics, or features of the area. Instead, monsters, lighting, and Perception DCs are displayed with indented, bold text shortly after encounter’s description, while terrain features and tactics listed with the monster stat blocks. Events sometimes run right after each other, though in some cases where there was not a lot of space they started at the top of the next page.

I kind of like this new layout a bit more, if only because of the order in which information is presented. Otherwise it looks similar to the previous layout, just with bold text instead of larger headings (which that, combined with white space, can make it easier to distinguish different blocks of information).

As for the actual adventure, it does look like a lot of fun and very portable; you could add it as a side trek for an adventure that involves the players entering a jungle (or forest), especially if the natives can help them find something they are looking for/help get them out. You could also pad it out with some random encounters to boost the party by a level or more. I don’t mind any plot holes that might exist (do not take my plot-mockery seriously), because there is really no way for the characters to know about them. From their point of view, villagers want them to get their daughter. It is kind of like that cliche of a mayor hiring them to save his daughter from cultists, only the daughter is the cult leader and there are apes instead of people.

So…not really like that at all.

A small chunk of the adventure can be avoided entirely if the party heads directly to the city, though they can also help patch up relations with the two rival villages (or make things worse with a some botched words and skill checks). My favorite encounter is the finale where you actually manage to square off against the girallon mummy; at 10th-level even a level 7 party (the highest recommended level for this adventure) will have a bitch of a time fighting it. What I like about the encounter is the usage of Arcana and/or Religion to try and force the mummy back into its sarcophagus. Even if you don’t get it that far, just the fact that you can slide it and it cannot move closer for a turn could be insanely helpful to a party with ranged characters.

This adventure looks like a barrel of…fun, but I am on the fence concerning the new format, such as it is. I’ll need to see more adventures before I can form a stronger opinion.